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Callum McMillan examines the ICE's Low Carbon Concrete Routemap

5th May 2022

The ICE’s Low Carbon Concrete Routemap is over two years in the making and a welcome contribution from the Institution.

The use of concrete and cement in construction is very much the elephant in the room when it comes to how our industry works towards net zero carbon by 2050. Concrete is a ubiquitous material that you’ll find in vast quantities on almost any construction site across the UK, contributing a significant quantity of embodied carbon emissions each year (a whopping 5% of global emissions come from concrete).

This routemap presents multiple opportunities and challenges for engineers and construction professionals to champion and carry forward.

These range from the benchmarking of concrete’s embodied carbon emissions across infrastructure projects; to concrete design and specification; to the championing of new and innovative technologies.

Our civil and structural division is already benchmarking with embodied carbon assessments of our structural schemes, and we have dedicated materials and embodied carbon steering groups that look to identify the best routes across all our projects to champion a net zero future.

The ICE’s routemap raises important points. Some of the biggest challenges facing our industry lie in changing perceptions: the need to engage with our clients and get them on board, and then to be champions of a collaborative supply-chain approach to solving this 'wicked' problem.

In addition, the importance of scaling up those innovations until they themselves become ubiquitous is made clear. By far, the biggest challenge is ensuring that law and policymakers are on board.

The ICE and our industry have got to “work with Government and industry to develop and deliver a coordinated programme for tests, trials and pilots. The focus must be on enabling rapid scale-up of successful technologies that deliver reductions in carbon emissions.”

The routemap makes for fascinating reading, combining practical and relevant advice for the here and now, alongside a wider narrative of how the built environment and construction industry can work towards net zero carbon. This includes:

  • A flowchart approach to measures for specifying lower carbon concrete mixes;
  • Highlighting the importance of collaboration between all parties (“It is important for all stakeholders who have a part to play in influencing the carbon intensity of the concrete – the engineer, contractor, supplier, client and wider design team – work together to develop compliant and appropriate solutions”);
  • Providing industry and government next steps for reducing carbon in concrete at scale.

Ultimately, the real test of this forward thinking document is the willingness of Government, industry, and all stakeholders to get on board. The ICE's Low Carbon Concrete Routemap spells out exactly what needs to happen over the course of the next 10 to 15 years to ensure concrete works to support the UK reaching Net Zero by 2050 - however, be in no doubt that what is proposed requires a complete change in thinking and approach.

Callum McMillan is a Principal Engineer in our Civil and Structural division. Contact Callum via email here.