Why is Concrete Bad for the Environment?

July 22, 2016 10:32 am

Concrete is still widely used in the building industry as a result of its strength. It’s typically utilised in the building of most construction types including houses, tunnels and public buildings.

Concrete and cement are often spoken of as though they were one and the same thing but cement is merely a part of concrete, a quantity of its whole together with sand, gravel and water. Cement is the binder within concrete and it’s what keeps the whole mixture together, lending strength and durability.

Because we can’t speak of concrete without discussing cement, we must therefore look at why cement is an issue for the environment.

Why Cement is the Issue

Second only to coal-powered electricity, the manufacture of cement is the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses and it accounts tor 5% of yearly anthropogenic global CO2 production.

For each tonne of cement produced, a tonne of CO2 is produced with it.

Why is CO2 Bad?

CO2 is a naturally occurring gas which is emitted by human activity. It’s one of a number of greenhouse gases within our atmosphere; others include water, vapour, ozone and nitrous oxide.

In order to begin to understand the impact of these gases, we have to begin with the sun. The sun sends solar radiation (light) to Earth and the atmosphere deflects a certain amount of this radiation; the rest hits the plant’s surface and warms the land and oceans.

The earth then radiates its own heat upwards in the form of infrared rays…some of which escape the atmosphere and some of which are absorbed and remitted by atmospheric gases…these gases are greenhouse gases and they help the planet to retain its usual temperature.

The natural systems of Earth regulated the production of greenhouse gases very successfully for millions of years. Gases were absorbed and emitted at healthy rates whilst temperatures were regulated at a good level which supported life on the planet.

Humankind managed to live in harmony with this regulated and perfect system until around 1750 – the start of the industrial revolution.

Since that time, we have been adding greenhouse gases, mostly CO2 to our atmosphere at a regularly increasing rate. We have been trapping the heat and as a result of that, causing temperatures to rise.

CO2 represents around 84% of all greenhouse gases for which humans are responsible and most of it is as a direct result of burning fossil fuels to provide electricity and transport but industrial processes contribute enormously.

With 25 billion tonnes of concrete produced globally on a yearly basis and around 900 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste (of which between 20% and 80% is made up of concrete) is produced in Europe, the U.S. and Japan alone, it makes sense to consider how much of its application is strictly necessary when there are innovative alternatives on the market.

Whilst the U.K. is the current global leader when it comes to recycling concrete (reusing 22% for aggregate in roads) there still needs to be a huge rethink in terms of the way in which concrete is produced, used and recycled.

How Can We Improve the Situation?

There are many theories which discuss a variety of strategies which could potentially improve the situation with regards to concrete; the production methods used, the mixes which are currently sold and the ingredients used have all been discussed and new ideas are emerging which could improve the outlook for the future of the planet.

Helical Piles as an Alternative to Poured Concrete Foundations

Helical piles require no concrete whatsoever and are currently the most practical and effective way to avoid the use of concrete within foundations. Cost-effective and fast to install they are suited for ground conditions at every individual site.

They may be installed;

  • At raked angles
  • Protruding from the ground or buried
  • In any soil
  • To support structure in compression and tension
  • At grade, on embankments and in cuttings
  • In low temperatures – unlike concrete
  • In bespoke situations

With so much at stake, it makes sense for the construction industry to embrace the newest and most innovative tools available – especially when they make financial sense.

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