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Climate Concerns Creating Concrete Changes

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As a society we love building with concrete. Why wouldn’t we?

What other building material can take any shape or form and still perform resiliently in all conditions? Only concrete comes to mind. It is used structurally, architecturally and decoratively. Horizontally, vertically and diagonally. In fact, the built environment we know, love and enjoy was made largely of concrete. And for good reason.

Concrete has performed successfully for millennia all over the world. It is ubiquitous for reasons like safety, durability and resiliency, to name only a few. Plus, concrete has long proven to be reliable, affordable and readily available. What more can one ask for? Beneath every home or building is a foundation made mostly of concrete. Simply put: We can count on concrete.

And then there’s this: “The only constant in life is change”—Heraclitus.

Related: Challenges Lead to Innovation

With decarbonization roadmaps deployed and major funding afoot, innovative changes are on the horizon for most abatement-challenged legacy industries. Cement and concrete included. Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and Portland-Limestone Cement (PLC) are only the start of what’s to come from new developments in response to climate change.

When raw materials change prescribing protocol, testing is a good start to establish baseline performance for comparison. At minimum. Ownership and accountability are paramount to success in the industry.

Although, to be clear, PLCs were approved in 2012 under C595, so technically they are not new. However understandably, responsible risk-averse industries can be prone to late adoption. So why the backlash now regarding PLC performance?  In summation some did not do their homework before launch. To be fair, producers could have done more to drive customer adoption sooner.

I’m hopefully optimistic regarding innovations and collaborations I see coming. Especially in an industry historically slow to change. A few recent innovative developments intriguing me for various reasons are: nano-silicas (used for internal curing, enhancing finishing and physical property developments), bio-cement (produced from algae), cement hydrated with CO2 instead of H20, and various supplementary cementing material (SCM) blends and chemistries that do not use traditional Ordinary Portland Cement (OPC). I like OPC, but I like options more. I’m only scratching the surface.

Related: 3D Home Printing Company Moves to Greeley

So how does this affect the Colorado builder? Although change is imminent, the industry has a 10- to 20-year adoption cycle for new products and blends as well as standards and specification development. The adoption timeframe, while accelerating, allows opportunity for the proactive to prepare accordingly, expecting market acceptance and subsequent adoption of new products.

Surveying the landscape, it finally appears to be an all-hands-on-deck approach for the first time across the entire value chain. We are going to hear phrases such as life-cycle cost analysis (LCA) and circular economy a lot in the foreseeable future, and it’s a good thing.

When it’s all said and done, concrete is designed to perform as needed, based on the application. We would not use a sidewalk concrete mix to pour a bridge girder and vice versa.  So rest assured Coloradans, regardless of what changes come we will still be able to rely on concrete for generations to come.

Author

  • Bryan Smith

    Bryan Smith is principal owner of Elevate Concrete, a concrete consultancy based out of Denver. He has a bachelor’s degree in concrete industry management from Middle Tennessee State University and more than 18 years of technical leadership experience in the concrete industry. Bryan lives in Denver with his wife and two children. He has called Colorado home since 2006.

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