As governments across the world make progress in their efforts to reduce carbon emissions, policymakers are now turning their attention to the more difficult to decarbonize industrial sector. The manufacturing of materials like concrete is of growing interest to leaders focused on reducing carbon in their communities.
New York State has introduced one of the most notable policy proposals to promote low-carbon concrete availability within the state: the Low Embodied Carbon Concrete Leadership Act. This proposed legislation has been introduced in both state legislative chambers, and is expected to be voted on in 2021.
In an effort to better understand this proposed new policy—and what it may mean for concrete producers—we sat down with Christopher Neidl, co-founder of the OpenAir Collective and one of the leading forces behind the proposed Act.
Origins of LECCLA
With a background in renewable energy policy, Neidl was surprised to find himself immersed in the world of concrete—but it made sense. “Concrete is a fascinating material because although it is currently a significant source of carbon emissions, its unique properties give it the ability to potentially store carbon dioxide safely—so it has great potential for carbon removal as well as carbon reduction,” said Neidl.
In a casual conversation with Assemblymember Robert Carroll, a legislator he’d previously worked with on solar energy and battery storage bills, Neidl mentioned his new area of interest, and that conversation sparked an idea to conduct a research project to find out what policies could catalyze the use of negative emissions technologies.
Neidl worked closely with Dr. Julio Friedmann at Columbia's Center on Global Energy Policy, and sought input from academia and industry to create a policy proposal focused on concrete procurement. The focus on government procurement made sense as according to a 2019 study, the public sector consumes approximately 37% of all concrete produced.
New York’s Climate Ambitions Set the Stage
In 2019, New York State introduced one of the most aggressive decarbonization legislation efforts on the books anywhere: New York’s Climate Leadership Community Protection Act (CLCPA). There is, however, a gap in this legislation around industrial-based emissions, including emissions arising from the manufacturing of materials like cement and concrete.
The Low Embodied Carbon Concrete Leadership Act (LECCLA) is intended to build on and support the CLCPA. It was introduced to the State Senate during the 2020 New York Climate Week by the original author of the CLCPA, environmental champion Senator Todd Kaminsky.
“LECCLA sparked the interest of the sponsor of the New York’s Climate Leadership Community Protection Act. We have also gained support from the Natural Resources Defense Council, the League of Conservation Voters, and many other great stakeholders, big and small,” said Neidl. “It has also been very important for us to get the support of the design and construction community and the concrete industry.”
So far, there has been a positive response to the proposed policy. “People feel it accelerates innovation, but it doesn't impose too much penalty or financial burden on the concrete industry,” said Neidl.
What Does LECCLA Propose?
Neidl and his team took inspiration from bills introduced in California and Oregon that rely on the transparency provided by Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs).
EPDs report the global warming potential (GWP) value of products and materials. GWP is an independent, consistent metric for measuring and reporting the carbon content of materials that is technology and method agnostic and can be used to compare materials based on their environmental impact. Reducing the GWP of concrete can be achieved many ways, including through:
- Off-the-shelf cement-replacement materials like ground glass, slag, or fly ash
- Process-oriented solutions like using renewable energy
- Emerging technologies like carbon capture, utilization, or storage
LECCLA Proposes That:
Concrete producers can access a tax rebate that will help fund the creation of environmental product declarations (EPDs) for their products.Concrete producers bidding on public projects in New York will be ranked based on the global warming potential (GWP) value of their concrete, in addition to cost.For producers with the lowest GWP score on their EPD, a 5% price discount is artificially applied to their bid price, potentially making their bid more competitive.For producers that use any carbon capture, utilization, or storage technology to manufacture their concrete, an additional 3% discount will be applied.
The bottom line: Producers with the lowest-carbon concrete will be in the best position to win public sector business.
Instead of mandating caps or punishing noncompliance, LECCLA proposes to take an incentive-driven approach to support movement toward lower carbon products. “Rather than making producers hit a certain GWP threshold, we decided to make GWP a competitive differentiator,” explained Neidl. “Bidders with EPDs will be ranked from lowest to highest GWP and the top performer will get an artificial discount applied to their price, meaning they could be assessed as providing better value than their competition through a combination of bid price and low carbon performance.”
The end goal is to fully decarbonize concrete, but Neidl explained that this will be impossible without speeding up adoption of new technologies like carbon capture and utilization. “The technologies are simply not entering the marketplace fast enough to meet New York State's climate goals,” said Neidl. “We ultimately want carbon-negative concrete and you certainly don't get there without utilizing carbon in the product itself.”
With carbon capture and utilization expected to account for as much as 50% of the decarbonization needed in the cement and concrete sector, the added emphasis provided under this legislation will help spur critical investment and deployment of these technologies in New York.
To encourage greater use of such technologies, the proposed policy adds an additional discount to the price of a bid that includes some form of carbon capture, utilization, or storage technology. This could include technologies like CarbonCure or other strategies like the use of carbon-based aggregates or materials made from direct air capture technologies. “There are so many different ingredients and processes in concrete that lend themselves to these technologies so we want to encourage what we call the stacking or integration of multiple solutions,” said Neidl. “If you have a policy that's based on GWP, it encourages producers to introduce as many innovations as possible.”
The premise of the policy is that the average GWP will continue to lower as producers start adopting solutions that are market-ready. As this happens, greater innovation is required to keep ahead of the competition. The vision is that this will drive demand for more technology solutions.
Neidl believes that the best thing about LECCLA is that it's not disruptive to the industry. “We're not creating a bill that's going to put producers out of business. Instead, we’re incentivizing them to do things that will win them new business.”