The role of cement in the
2050 Low Carbon Economy

Downstream

Cement is never used on its own. It is always mixed with other materials to make plaster, mortar and most importantly concrete. Therefore, the sector looks beyond the factory gates and carries out research and product development to improve the environmental performance of concrete and how to reuse or recycle concrete. None of the potential savings outlined in these sections were included in our calculations.

Why is concrete used?

Concrete is a composite construction material made primarily with aggregates, cement and water. It is the most commonly used manmade material in the world, its production equivalent to almost three tonnes of concrete per person, per year, twice as much as all other materials put together, including wood, steel, plastics and aluminium.[1]

Concrete is widely used for architectural structures, foundations, walls, pavements, bridges, motorways, roads, runways, parking structures, dams, reservoirs, pipes, staircases, furniture and even in ships.

There are many good reasons why concrete is so widely used all over the world:

  • Strength and durability

    Concrete is used in constructions like buildings, bridges, tunnels and dams for its strength, which grows over time, as it is not weakened by moisture, mould or pests. Its durability makes concrete a key material for sustainable construction.

  • Versatility

    Concrete can be used for a broad range of applications, including buildings, bridges, dams, tunnels, sewerage systems, pavements, runways and roads. It is infinitely mouldable, meaning that architects can realise their dreams and aspirations, constructing spaces and structures which can be elegant, vibrant and full of light.

  • Excellent thermal mass

    Concrete walls and floors reduce the transfer of heat, reducing temperature swings. This lowers energy needs, from heating to air conditioning, offering year-round energy savings over the lifetime of the building.

  • Low maintenance

    Being inert and compact, concrete does not attract mould or lose its key properties over time.

  • Affordability

    In relation to other comparable building materials, concrete is less costly to produce and remains extremely affordable.

  • Fire-resistance

    As it is naturally fire-resistant, concrete forms a highly effective fire barrier.

  • Relatively low CO2 emissions

    Specific CO2 emissions from concrete and cement production are relatively small compared to other building materials.

  • Energy efficiency in production

    Producing concrete uses less energy than producing other comparable building materials.

  • Locally produced and used

    The relative cost of land transport usually limits cement and concrete sales to within 300km of a plant. This local use of cement and concrete minimises transport related emissions associated with other more globally traded construction materials.

  • Albedo effect

    The high albedo (reflective qualities) of concrete used in pavements and building walls means more light is reflected and less heat is absorbed, resulting in cooler temperatures. This can help reduce the ‘urban heat island’ effect which affects some of the world’s cities. Appropriate use of concrete surfaces can reduce local heating and thereby decrease the need for additional energy use for air conditioning.