Two industry leaders are advancing concrete's potential as a sustainable building product.
The Portland Cement Association (PCA), Skokie, Ill., and the Ready Mixed Concrete (RMC) Research and Education Foundation, Silver Spring, Md., are funding a special research center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
The Concrete Sustainability Hub (CSH), established in October, is charged with “accelerating emerging breakthroughs in concrete science and engineering and transferring that science into practice.” Researchers from MIT's School of Engineering, School of Architecture and Planning, and Sloan School of Management will participate.
The CSH will coordinate the efforts of $10 million of sponsored research funding, focusing on projects that further the sustainability and implications of using concrete as a building material. The fund includes $1 million in annual grants from both PCA and the RMC Foundation, for five years.
This integrated approach to green research is important to the concrete industry. As industry organizations devote more time and resources to promoting concrete's green benefits, they need information on how to address questions about its carbon footprint.
“The concrete industry has the honor of producing the world's most favored building material,” says Julie Garbini, executive director of the RMC Research and Education Foundation. “But this honor comes with a responsibility for the industry to minimize its ecological footprint.” By funding the CSH, the organizations are taking the next step to help concrete pass other materials as a sustainable option.
The CSH research will initially focus on three areas: concrete materials science, building technology, and the econometrics of sustainable development. Because sustainable construction is interconnected and complex, the CSH will bring together engineers, economists, urban planners, architects, and others to address issues and create new approaches.
Its first project, “The Edge of Concrete: A Life Cycle Investigation of Concrete and Concrete Structures,” will identify and quantify the economic and environmental performance of concrete pavements and buildings compared to other building materials.
The project's main components include: a material flow analysis of concrete in the built environment; life cycle assessment of both embodied and operating energy of concrete buildings; and life cycle assessment of concrete versus asphalt paving for highway construction.
“We will work closely with industry partners to ensure that our ideas and research are sustainable economically, as well as environmentally, and are a source of job creation,” says Franz-Josef Ulm, the Macomber Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and CSH director.
RMC and PCA hope the research also will help the industry demonstrate concrete's role in sustainable construction at a time when it faces many proposed EPA regulations that could limit growth. CSH's launch coincided with an announcement that the EPA is moving to enact rules that would curtail greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants and other large industrial manufacturers.
“Ultimately, the construction industry's greatest opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may be in developing more durable and energy-efficient roads, houses, and buildings,” says Brian McCarthy, CEO and president of PCA.