Concrete is the foundation of our built environment, used to build our homes, roads, hospitals, and the many structures that make up our modern civilization. It’s the most widely used material on our planet after water, and our reliance on it reinforces the concrete industry’s value.
But this industry is not without its challenges. Growth within both the residential and commercial construction sectors, combined with supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic, is driving up prices for materials like cement and fly ash. Increased competition from other building materials, such as wood and steel, is grabbing market share from precast concrete producers.
At the same time, the concrete industry is facing a growing demand for sustainability. Up to 50 percent of commercial building developers are looking for more sustainable solutions, and suppliers across the industry are feeling the pressure to lower their carbon footprint.
But within this push for sustainability is an opportunity. In our eBook, 3 Ways Precast Producers Can Profit from Sustainability, we share three ways producers can increase profits in their business with sustainable precast concrete:
1. Reduce precast production costs
Cement is the most expensive ingredient in precast concrete mixes. By reducing its use, concrete producers can lower production costs and increase profits. Modern material technologies and mix designs can decrease the quantity of cement used while still producing the same quality concrete:
- Supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) act as a replacement for cement in concrete. Studies and industry testing have proven that SCMs increase concrete’s strength over time to levels greater than traditional concrete mixes. As well, the most common SCMs – fly ash, slag and silica fume – have an added environmental benefit by sequestering post-industrial waste from coal and steel. Unfortunately, recent developments, including COVID-19 disruptions, raw material shortages and the Clean Air Act, mean that SCMs may not be a long-term sustainable option.
- Portland-limestone cement (PLC) allows producers to reduce the total cementitious content of their precast concrete. PLC replaces up to 85 percent of the clinker used in regular concrete with interground limestone and results in up to 10 percent less CO2 emissions. It’s suitable for all applications, and when blended with SCMs, PLC performs similarly to regular Portland cement.
- Carbon mineralization technology, such as CarbonCure Precast, works by injecting recycled carbon dioxide into fresh concrete during mixing. The CO2 then undergoes a chemical reaction and turns into a mineral, becoming permanently sequestered in the concrete. Because it also improves the compressive strength of concrete, the quantity of cement in mixes can be reduced.
2. Compete for greater market share
The growing demand for sustainable and low carbon building options is transforming the precast concrete industry. In response to the threat of climate change, various governmental bodies and industries are working to reduce the CO2 produced in construction:
- The Structural Engineers 2050 Challenge aims to inspire structural engineers to contribute towards the global vision of Zero Carbon buildings by 2050.
- The American Institute of Architecture 2030 Challenge sets out targets for all new buildings, developments, and major renovations to be carbon-neutral by 2030.
- State and local governments in Oregon, New York, and other areas require producers to have third-party-verified, product-specific Type III Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs).
More carbon-reducing initiatives and regulations are expected from industry and government. In response, innovations in sustainable concrete production, such as CarbonCure Precast, continue to evolve. Analysts say that CO2 mineralization has the potential to become a USD $800 billion global industry by the year 2030.
Producers that take the lead on adopting these innovations will be better prepared for new regulations and can position sustainability as a competitive advantage in order to compete for greater market share.
3. Collaborate with local specifiers to permit concrete mix innovation
Certain construction market segments, such as infrastructure, have traditionally been averse to risk. While understandable, it’s resulted in over-specified mix designs with a higher cement content than needed for strength and performance. More cement means higher costs and higher carbon emissions, but some companies are unaware of this connection with outdated specs.
Engineering firms and governments are working to remove the unnecessary barriers to sustainable concrete that prescriptive specs create. Precast producers can share their expertise and engage in dialogue with engineers and government procurement officers in support of low-carbon concrete that maintains the high-quality standards the industry expects.
To learn more about how you can boost your company’s profitability with sustainable technology, download our eBook, 3 Ways Precast Producers Can Profit from Sustainability.