Low Carbon Concrete May Hold the Key to Better Margins, Even for Regional Providers

If you’re a concrete producer, it’s no surprise to you that the recent surge in material costs are squeezing your profit margin. But what may come as a surprise is that “going green” may hold the key to better margins, even for lower volume regional producers. 

The latest cost-saving environmental solution for the industry comes from CarbonCure Technologies, which provides an innovative process to reduce the carbon footprint of concrete. CarbonCure uses reclaimed carbon dioxide (CO2) from other industrial sources and injects it into the ready mix. The CO2 undergoes a chemical reaction converting it to a mineral, effectively eliminating the CO2 forever, while adding strength. 

This is where the savings comes in. Cement is not only responsible for much of the carbon footprint in concrete, but it’s also the most expensive ingredient. The added strength provided by the CO2 then allows producers to reduce the amount of cement in the mix. Less cement is better for the environment and the bottom line. The end result is concrete with the same performance, a better environmental footprint and, for the vast majority of producers, a decrease in overall production costs.

“There’s no trade-off,” says Jason Lo, Director of North American Sales at CarbonCure. “That surprises some people, because there’s often an assumption that environmentally sustainable choices end up costing more in the long run.”

But it’s another common misunderstanding that has regional producers missing out, says Jason. He says regional producers hear about the big concrete producers using CarbonCure and assume it’s because they have huge volumes, big sales and marketing departments, and robust quality control (QC) teams to formulate, test and adjust the mixes.

“While regional pricing will have an impact, the volume that is necessary for a return on investment is a lot lower than people think,” he says. 

He points to several regional producers who are making it work and are able to remain competitive despite the recent pressure of rising material costs. “These are local producers. They are the kind who sponsor the local kids’ sports team and really care about being a good steward for their community.  They are proud to be producing sustainable concrete that is better for their community and its future.”

And while having a big QC team is certainly beneficial, he points out that it isn’t a barrier for producers wanting to use CarbonCure in residential concrete – the everyday concrete used in the foundations, basements and walls of our homes, our driveways and parking slabs. 

CarbonCure’ Customer Support team offers a full suite of support services with an approach that is regional-producer friendly. Among these is a robust Technical Services and Support program that does all the legwork to make and break cylinders, provides advice on how to adjust, analyze and test mixes, and offers ongoing technical support as required. 

In fact, in many ways, residential concrete producers have an advantage.

Residential Concrete Producers Could Lead the Charge to Environmental Sustainability

Often concrete producers who serve the commercial and public works sectors must adhere to outdated, prescriptive specifications.  These prescribed specs can initially act as a barrier to using new technologies and adjusting mix designs. CarbonCure’s Market Development team works closely with its concrete producer partners to eliminate those barriers and provide a competitive sales advantage for lower carbon concrete. While the team has seen considerable success, gaining market differentiation and acceptance can in some cases require a bit of effort.  

In the meantime, residential concrete producers have the freedom to meet performance specifications. As long as the concrete performs the way it should, they can adapt their mixes to improve environmental sustainability and reduce costs.

“While our technology is advanced, it’s not difficult to implement or use,” says Jason. 

In addition to technical support, CarbonCure also provides sales training and turn-key co-branded marketing material that empowers any producer to take advantage of CarbonCure’s sustainability brand. An innovative product, combined with wrap-around customer support, provides a significant opportunity for cost savings and improved environmental performance for residential concrete. That’s no small impact. 

Residential Concrete Producers Could Lead the Industry

Because of the lower barriers to adopting this technology, residential producers are poised to lead the concrete industry’s goal to reduce concrete carbon emissions by 50% by 2030.

According to the NRMCA, an estimated 33 percent of the 380 million cubic yards (290 million cubic meters) of ready mix concrete poured in 2020 was for the residential market. This represents about 125 million cubic yards (96 million cubic meters) of everyday concrete. For illustrative purposes, if CarbonCure was used in that quantity of concrete each year, it would potentially reduce about 1.5 million tons (1.4 million metric tonnes) of CO2. That’s the equivalent of taking 304,000 vehicles off the road. Or, to put another way, it would take 1.7 million acres (687,966 hectares) of forest to remove that much CO2 in one year. 

That’s impressive in the “big picture,” but what exactly do the benefits look like for an individual producer? Like any business, results will vary based on local market variables. In addition to being environmentally sustainable, adopting CarbonCure’s technology can improve ROI, reduce the impact of recent material cost increases and, for early adopters, can even provide a competitive advantage to increase market share. To give you an idea, here are summaries from two regional producers that implemented CarbonCure and the impact it has made for them. 

Regional Producers Rocking CarbonCure’s Technology

Case study: Conewago Manufacturing in Pennsylvania

Size: Single ready mix plant (also offering mobile ready mix and precast services)

Volume per year: 60,000 yd3 (45,000 m3)

CarbonCure use: 98.7% of mix designs

Implementation: Two days with no interruption to production processes

Motivation: Add to the list of sustainability measures they had already implemented

Local variables: Located close to excellent aggregate, so concrete mixes don’t require as much cement mix as other regions

“We didn’t embark on our CarbonCure journey for profitability reasons. However, we noted a 7.5% return on investment on our original target of just 1%.”

 – Jason Blase, President, Conewago Manufacturing

Case study: Iowa City Ready Mix in Iowa

Size: Single-plant family-run producer

Opportunity: The City’s shift towards sustainability and a local architect and local contractor seeking to specify CarbonCure to improve sustainability

Motivation: To become an industry leader in sustainability and differentiate itself in a competitive market

Key benefits: In a region increasingly focused on reducing emissions, Iowa City Ready Mix is in a strong position to capture a greater market share and continue to achieve substantial carbon reductions in years to come.

“There’s a lot of competition in Iowa City so trying to get an edge on the market was really a key idea.” 

– Matt Knepper, General Manager, Iowa City Ready Mix

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