The Asia Pacific region is home to 60% of the global population (4.3 billion people). As the world's most populous and fastest-growing region, it stands at the center of an unprecedented construction boom.
From the megacities of China to the bustling metropolises of India, Indonesia, and beyond, we're witnessing a construction surge that will redefine the face of 21st-century urban landscape planning. This boom brings a monumental challenge. How can we meet construction demand sustainably, and crucially, how can we significantly reduce embodied carbon in the most widely used construction material worldwide: concrete?
Concrete Demand in Asia
By 2050, it's projected that 70% of the world's population will live in urban areas, with a significant proportion in Asia. This translates to an unrelenting demand for buildings and infrastructure and, by extension, for concrete — a material already consumed at an astounding rate of over 30 billion tons per year worldwide.
To meet that demand, over the next four decades, the world is projected to construct 230 billion square meters (2.5 trillion square feet) of buildings, effectively doubling the current worldwide building stock. In effect, the world will add a building footprint equivalent to New York City to the planet every 34 days between now and 2060.
Asia, with its dynamic growth and development, is expected to account for over half of the global construction market by 2030. However, without significant policy changes in the way concrete is produced, this construction boom will exacerbate our environmental challenges.
The Embodied Carbon Challenge
It's crucial to understand that while concrete forms the backbone of modern construction, its production contributes to around 8% of global CO2 emissions.
Globally, embodied carbon is responsible for 11% of annual greenhouse gas emissions and 28% of all emissions from the building sector, and, by 2050, embodied carbon in all new buildings and urban infrastructure would consume up to 60% of the world’s 2°C carbon budget.
To confront this challenge, we need to drive significant policy changes and promote green technologies across Asia.
1. Policy Shifts
While green technology offers the tools to reduce concrete's carbon footprint, policy and building code changes provide the framework and incentives to encourage their widespread adoption.
International examples include the Government of Canada which has committed to a target CO2 reduction of 30% for structural materials by 2025 and Buy Clean in the US. Buy Clean requires any federally-funded construction project to obtain Environmental Product Declarations. This means the carbon footprint of concrete will be normalized as another bid selection criterion for federal projects.
Closer to home, there are many examples of governments and green building organizations working toward policy change. Some examples include:
- In Vietnam, GREENVIET is focused on sustainable construction and green building.
- The Korean Green Building Council is a key advocate for green building design, practices, and technologies and collaborates with industry professionals, academia, government entities, and other stakeholders.
- In Singapore, BuildSG and the Singapore Green Building Council are advancing building and construction industries toward sustainable practices.
- In India, the government provides several incentives to encourage green building and LEED certifications including tax benefits, loans, and fast-track approvals.
- The Malaysia Green Building Council is supported by the professional, industrial, and government sectors to lead the building industry in embracing responsible measures in construction.
- In Japan, the government is investing in a "MOONSHOT program to actively develop and promote Direct Air Capture (DAC) technology that can recover CO₂ directly from the atmosphere beyond the emissions generated by industrial activities. It is also a supporter of other Carbon Capture, Usage, and Storage (CCUS) technologies, like CarbonCure.
Asian countries can look to their regional and international counterparts for inspiration for government policy shifts that will open up opportunities to encourage cleaner construction and lead by example with public infrastructure spending.
2. Sustainable Concrete Tech
There is no silver bullet for the production of low carbon concrete. Since concrete is made up of so many ingredients, there are lots of ways to reduce the carbon impact of each individual component and manufacturing process.
One innovation is CarbonCure, which beneficially repurposes waste carbon dioxide (CO2) by injecting it into concrete during mixing. Once injected, the CO2 chemically converts into a mineral and becomes permanently sequestered. The mineralized CO2 increases the concrete’s strength, which then enables producers to reduce the amount of cement content in their mixes while still maintaining concrete strength and performance. On average, this carbon utilization method reduces the carbon footprint of concrete by 15 kilograms per cubic meter; meaning a typical commercial high-rise building made with CarbonCure concrete will have an embodied carbon reduction of 680 metric tonnes.
This technology, however, should not be seen as a standalone solution. It is one part of a larger suite of stackable solutions that, when used in conjunction, can help drive down the carbon footprint of concrete. These may include the use of supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs), energy-efficient manufacturing processes, and low carbon blended cement types.
The Way Forward
The path to carbon-neutral concrete in Asia is a necessary journey. Given Asia's rapid urbanization and the environmental impact of conventional concrete production, embracing sustainable practices is an urgent need.
With the right policy changes, international cooperation, and the adoption of clean technologies like CarbonCure, Asia can lead the shift towards carbon-neutral concrete, fostering a sustainable urban future.