For decades now, the Canadian cement and concrete industry has been engaged in reducing its carbon footprint and creating more sustainable and lower-carbon solutions for Canada’s building industry. Today, we’re accelerating our actions towards net-zero concrete.
Charting our roadmap
Over the past 30 years, we’ve improved our manufacturing energy-efficiency by 20% and we’ve introduced lower-carbon cements, like Portland-limestone Cement, which reduce emissions by up to 10%, as compared to regular cement.
We’re substituting fossil fuels with low- or zero-carbon fuels—by-products from other industries and processes—reducing our carbon footprint and supporting a more circular economy.
We’re leading the way on carbon capture, utilization and storage, with several Canadian cement facilities already well advanced in the implementation of these promising, new technologies.
Most exciting of all, we’re charting our action plan to net-zero concrete by 2050, with an established collective milestone target to reduce the carbon intensity of cement by up to 40% by 2030 — which means reducing GHGs by over 15 MT cumulatively by 2030.
Released in May 2023, the Canadian Cement and Concrete Industry 2050 Action Plan to Net-Zero Concrete is tailored-made for our economy and policy environment while closely aligned with the Global Cement and Concrete Association (GCCA)’s Roadmap for Net Zero Concrete released in October 2021.
Our action plan highlights the Canadian cement and concrete industry’s significant acceleration of decarbonisation measures. It sets out the levers and milestones needed to achieve net-zero across the whole lifecycle, from cradle to cradle. It will highlight the important contributions required from designers, contractors, developers and clients in the use of concrete in the built environment. And it articulates the policy, investment and other supports needed from the government at the federal, provincial and local levels.
Net-zero is used throughout this site with respect to the industry and its products and relates to the reduction of CO2 emissions, across the whole life cycle, to zero. Carbon capture by our industry at our industrial plants is included amongst our actions to reduce carbon emissions to zero. Offsetting measures such as planting of trees or other nature-based solutions are not included in the calculations to get to net- zero. These offsetting measures are seen in some countries and regions as significant contributors to climate mitigation, but at a global level are not accepted within net-zero definitions. Carbon-neutral, a term which we’ve previously used, has the same meaning as net-zero as defined above. Concrete refers to all cement-based products including mortar, render, cement-based plasters and precast cement-based products such as masonry units and cladding products.
“Canada’s cement and concrete industry are leaders in the fight to stop climate change. While we are steadfast in our commitment to reduce our emissions by 15MT cumulatively by 2030 and reach true net-zero by 2050, we know we can’t do it alone. Together in collaboration with government we will continue to support the innovation and investment needed on our path to delivering net-zero concrete, while at the same time preserving its properties as a durable, resilient, versatile, and cost-effective material. Working together, Canada’s cement and concrete industry will remain competitive throughout the low-carbon transition, delivering emissions reductions while supporting jobs in communities across the country.”
Partners in sustainability with the Government of Canada
In November 2022, Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada released the Roadmap to Net-Zero Carbon Concrete by 2050. The Roadmap provides guidance on the technologies, tools and policies needed for the Canadian cement industry to achieve net‑zero carbon emissions while ensuring it remains competitive in a global net zero economy.
The Roadmap to Net-zero Carbon Concrete was spearheaded by a joint government-industry working group, co-led by the Cement Association of Canada and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. The working group includes key players from the federal government, the Canadian cement and concrete industry, and relevant environmental experts.
Concrete has stood the test of time, laying the foundation upon which Canada’s communities have grown and prospered. It is found in virtually every class of infrastructure. Its strength, durability and safety will play a critical role in building the sustainable and resilient infrastructure of the future. Set to be released in the coming months, the cement and concrete industry action plan to produce net-zero concrete by 2050 will include significant milestones, including cutting carbon emissions up to 40% by 2030.
Our carbon reduction actions to date
Concrete is renowned for its superior durability and strength, versatility, and the resiliency of its structures. But few people are yet aware of the many steps the industry has taken to reduce its environmental footprint, including the exciting carbon-cutting and carbon-capturing innovations that hold promise to transform this essential material into a net-zero, and maybe even a carbon-negative solution for the future.
Increased energy efficiency in cement manufacturing
Over the past 30 years, the cement industry has modernized its manufacturing fleet, reducing the energy required to make a tonne of cement by about 20%. In fact, today’s cement plants are some of the most efficient in the world.
Lower-carbon cements, like Portland-limestone cement (PLC) and blended cements, can reduce GHGs by more than 30%, providing the opportunity to cut nearly three MT of carbon emissions per year while producing concrete of equal strength and durability.
Here are a few interesting facts: PLC reduces CO2 emissions by using more limestone than regular Portland cement (15% instead of 5%). This additional limestone reduces the proportion of clinker, the most carbon intensive constituent of cement. No significant changes are required to concrete mix designs and, on its own, PLC could reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to 1 MT annually.
Blended cements use supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) that would otherwise be destined for landfills, including by-products like slag from steel and fly ash from the coal industry. These by-products typically replace 20% or more of the cement required to produce a metre3 of concrete, reducing CO2 emissions and avoiding landfills.
Replacing fossil fuels with material by-products and biomass
About 40% of carbon emissions from cement manufacturing comes from the combustion of fossil fuels used to heat our kilns. So, naturally, a significant focus of Canadian cement manufacturers has been on transitioning from fossil fuels to low- or zero-carbon alternatives.
Among the best alternative fuels today are those derived from material by-products of other industries or processes, like biomass residues, biosolids, construction and demolition waste, and non-recyclable plastics. Consuming these materials in cement kilns displaces fossil fuels and safely uses materials that would otherwise be deposited in landfills. As such, these recovered fuels reduce emissions at the cement facility while avoiding GHG emissions from landfills, thereby playing an important role the broader decarbonization of the economy while also supporting the transition to a circular economy.
Achieving current global best-in-class fuel substitution rates could further reduce combustion emissions by 20% to 30% and the Canadian cement sector is working with provincial governments to further remove obstacles to the use of alternative fuels.
Ever focused on the future, our industry is also exploring future fuels, such as novel biogenic fuels, clean renewable hydrogen and electrification, to further decarbonize cement manufacturing.
Carbon capture, utilization & storage
Our industry is deeply invested in carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies that could transform concrete into the world’s only truly carbon-negative building material.
Today, about 60% of the greenhouse gas emissions in cement manufacturing come from the chemical reaction inside the kiln.
However, several cement facilities in Canada are already well advanced in the implementation of carbon capture systems. For example, Lehigh Hanson has undertaken an advanced feasibility study for a full-scale carbon capture system with the possibility of capturing and sequestering up to 95% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) from its Edmonton cement plant’s flue gas. Similarly, Lafarge Canada has completed the installation of a flue-gas pre-treatment system at its Richmond cement plant, paving the way for a full carbon capture system, while piloting technologies that sequester captured CO2 into concrete.
Technologies that take waste CO2 from industrial processes and inject it into concrete to make it greener are already commercially available and in use.
Other CCUS opportunities include sequestering CO2 in mineral waste products from other industrial sectors to create a “carbonated” aggregate that can further reduce environmental impacts by replacing virgin aggregate in concrete while storing significant CO2 in the process.
By some estimates, these technologies could eventually store xx megatonnes of CO2 by locking it into the concrete used to build our infrastructure and buildings.
A culture of innovation: the key to decarbonization
The cement and concrete industry champions innovation in the manufacturing of cement and concrete, and collaboration — at home and abroad — to advance the policy and market solutions needed to reach net-zero concrete by 2050.
Our partnership with the Government of Canada on the development and implementation of our roadmap to net-zero carbon concrete builds on the steps already taken by our industry, further accelerating the decarbonization of our sector. It also offers promising potential as a catalyst for further change and innovation.
Innovandi – another step towards a greener future
On a global level, virtually all of Canada’s cement manufacturers are members of Innovandi, a Global Cement and Concrete Research Network that unites the cement and concrete industry with scientific institutions to drive and support global innovation with actionable research. The first Innovandi Core Projects, which have begun implementation, include targeted research projects aiming to enable further reductions in CO2 emissions..