A quick check of their website reveals this to be a new focus. “The cement and concrete industry is committed to being a proactive partner in addressing the challenges of mitigating and adapting to climate change,” said Michael McSweeney, president and CEO of the Cement Association of Canada. “We are in an age of massive re-investment in our basic infrastructure in Canada, and this presents an enormous opportunity to both mitigate climate change through reduced CO2 emissions as well as prepare ourselves for the changes in our climate that are already underway."
I was reminded of all of this today when I read an article in the Financial Times, On a mission to rescue concrete from its brutal reputation.
“You can use concrete for your house because it is beautiful,” declares Bruno Lafont, chief executive of Lafarge, the French company that made the concrete for the MuCEM building.
You might expect a bit of gloss from the head of a group that sits in France’s CAC 40 index alongside companies such as LVMH, arch purveyor of luxury and elegance.
Developing “ultra high-performance” concrete – dense, fibre-reinforced and smooth-surfaced – of the type used by architect Rudy Ricciotti for MuCEM is a key task at Lyon.
But it is only one of a number of projects. In one workshop, engineers test cement-laced mud bricks being developed for housebuilding in Malawi, where traditional burnt-clay bricks have been banned because making them is detrimental to the local environment.
Tests are under way on concrete made with biomass, which is four times lighter than concrete made with traditional aggregates. Water-permeable road surfacing, self-levelling concrete and pollution-absorbing concrete for tunnels and car parks are all being worked on by Lafarge boffins.
“Concrete is a dumb material but there is lots of science behind it and that’s why I love it,” says Christophe Lévy, a director at the Lyon centre.
Much of the challenge is to reduce the environmental impact of concrete. Mr Lafont says construction overall (not just with concrete) accounts for 40 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions: “We are part of the problem, but we can be part of the solution.”
A core issue is reducing the energy used in making cement by firing limestone and clay at 2000C. Cement remains essential to making concrete. “Nobody has found anything simpler or cheaper to glue stones together,” says Mr Lafont.
New processes, lower quantities of raw materials and recycling are all part of an effort by Lafarge to reduce carbon emissions per tonne of concrete by a third by 2020 compared with 1990 levels.
That way, concrete can compare favourably with other materials, Mr Lafont insists. And it can secure a broader reputation for making beautiful buildings, from small houses to soaring tower blocks – and cutting-edge museums.
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