The UK’s concrete and cement industry has announced an ambitious carbon programme with a target to become ‘Carbon Negative’ by 2050. In this blog, we explore how the new roadmap can affect the industry. We also answer the main questions on the precast concrete drainage sector and ‘Net Zero Carbon’.
In June, the cement and concrete sector, through industry body UK Concrete, announced new plans to introduce an industry framework and roadmap to deliver a ‘net negative’ carbon target by 2050. The roadmap is expected to include a very wide range of measures and technologies addressing energy efficiency, fuel switching, low-carbon cement alternatives and Carbon Capture, Usage & Storage (CCUS). This is the most ambitious initiative to date by the sector and is expected to be a main gamechanger for the UK’s effort to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
The precast concrete drainage sector is part of this initiative. All our member companies, as members of British Precast, UK Concrete and the Mineral Products Association (MPA), will automatically commit to the new target and the roadmap. This would not only address our direct emissions but would also include upstream emissions from our supply chain partners.
Following the announcement, we would expect a wide range of questions on how the precast drainage sector will achieve this objective. In this article, we answer some of the main questions on the true carbon footprint of precast drainage, why this roadmap is ground- breaking, how it could be done and what makes us confident that a “Beyond Net Zero” target is achievable.
What is the true current carbon footprint of a concrete pipe?
Based on the last Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) we published, the carbon footprint of an unreinforced concrete pipe was around 145 kg CO 2 e/t. This is also the figure currently shown in the latest issue of the ICE Database as derived from our 2017 EPD (2016 data). However, since then, the carbon footprint of a concrete pipe has dropped in the last four years. This is mainly due to reductions in energy consumption across precast factories, a drop in waste to landfills, an increase in green electricity use by some members of BPDA, a sharp drop in the carbon footprint of Portland Cement, and the general decarbonisation of the electricity grid since 2016 (from around 0.45 to 0.28 kg CO2e/kWh). We believe that a further 6-8% reduction was achieved between 2016 to 2019, taking our pre Covid-19 carbon footprint to around 134-136 kg CO2e/t. These numbers do not include reinforcement and rebar, which has also seen significant reductions since 2016 due to decarbonation efforts by the main suppliers (who are all local).
Will the precast drainage sector publish a new EPD?
BPDA’s current EPD is set to expire in 2022. Following the publication of EN 15804 +A2 in late 2019, British Precast started work on a revision based on the new standard with the intention of renewing all precast products’ EPDs, including the one for concrete pipes.
Is it possible to reach ‘Carbon Negative’ or even ‘Net Zero’?
For concrete, it is definitely possible. Net-Zero Carbon concrete is already being sold in the UK today. But achieving this at industry level will require some time as there will be a need to address a wide range of emission sources. The main advantage for the concrete industry is that its entire supply chain is local. All our member companies and their cement and reinforcing steel suppliers, hauliers and customers are UK based, and all of them support HM Government’s drive for Net Zero Carbon by 2050. UK Concrete’s new Roadmap came after sufficient consultation with those supply chain partners. There is a very good understanding of the likely decarbonisation route for all emission sources across the supply chain. Some of these routes, such as fuel switching, will require investment over a number of years. Others, such as green transport, CCUS and modern low-carbon cements, will require innovation. But the overall framework and plan is clear, and the industry understands what needs to be done.
Will there be any intermediary targets to 2030 or 2040?
The concrete industry is currently working on details of the roadmap, which will include some industry targets to 2030 and beyond. Concrete pipe manufacturers, in specific, are exploring a wide range of options at shop floor level to further lower their carbon footprint. We are also looking at savings beyond the factory gate: By reducing the carbon footprint of entire built solutions and talking with designers/ contractors to improve products’ designs, product handling and installation on site. We also believe that Circular Economy can unlock significant whole-life carbon savings if embraced by asset operators within the drainage, sewerage and highway sectors.
Why should the industry believe any figures or footprints published by the precast drainage sector?
Scheme-based EPDs, verified to EN 15804, offer the highest level of carbon footprinting scrutiny and transparency. In Scheme-based EPDs, all footprinting calculations are verified by 3 rd parties using strict rules set by expert committees employed through independent schemes. The number of independent parties involved in developing, auditing and assessing an EPD makes it extremely difficult to introduce any shortcuts, tricks or means to hide carbon emissions. Moreover, the fact that our supply chain is 100% local means that the raw materials data we use is representative and accurate.
It is important to understand that not all generic carbon footprint values used in the construction industry are based on such levels of scrutiny.
When should we see the new concrete carbon roadmap or any new precast drainage strategies or plans?
BPDA is currently finalising a major study assessing Whole-life carbon for concrete pipe installations compared to those using lightweight alternatives. We think it will be one of the most detailed and comparative assessments carried out to date on the overall GHG impacts of drainage and sewerage pipe installations. We tried to align the study as much as possible to EN 15978, using help from authors of the ICE Database, Circular Ecology, and other experts. The precast drainage sector is also working on its own carbon initiative, which should support the overall cement & concrete carbon roadmap.