Decarbonization in the Construction Sector

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Background of the Analysis

Carbonization can be defined as converting organic and solid substances into carbon-containing emissions, affecting the environment. The gas produced through the carbonization of the materials like steel or timber creates deadly effects on human health and the environment (Hu et al., 2010). The emphasis of the study is entirely based on the construction industry determining the effects of carbonization of the materials used, including steel, timber, and sand. Hence, the study will provide an in-depth analysis of the strategic implementation of decarbonization in the construction sector to mitigate the effects of carbon emissions that affect the environment and human health (Farooq et al., 2019).

Decarbonization in the Construction Industry (Steel, Cement, Timber)

Organizations and governments have started to show concerns about global carbon emissions and environmental factors. The construction industry is one of the leading sectors in creating deliverables to decarbonize the effects of materials like Steel, cement, and concrete (Karlsson et al., 2020). The steel industry is also considered lethal to the environment due to the steel production units and is one of the core materials used in every aspect of construction. In 2020, the global production of steel was seen at 1864 million tonnes which were mainly occupied by the construction industry accounting for a use of 52%.

In order to reduce the carbon emission of steel, the energy-intensive and coal-dependent oxygen blast furnace can be used to produce steel. The aims of the companies collectively are to reduce the impact of carbon emissions by the year 2050, when the construction industry needs to invest in advanced materials and technology like low-emission construction machinery (Bouyssou, 2021). Similarly, other companies like HeidelbergCement have formed new green and cost-effective concrete through the effective use of special raw materials and advanced mix design tool that helps in reducing spaces between the cement and water resulting in an ecological and optimized creation of concrete in less time and greater durability than the normal concrete (Mikanovic, 2021). However, it has been defined by the author Brownell (2021), that low carbon emission cement although a bit costly but provides a strategic roadmap to social and environmental concerns.  

The companies and steel producers are now looking out for strategies to implement the concepts of decarbonization. The strategies of decarbonizing steel from the construction industry include optimized use of a basic oxygen furnace with the input of, direct reduced iron with enhanced fuel injection in the basic furnace. Moreover, figure (1) provided below illustrates the effective use of hydrogen-based steel production that can be used in the construction industry (Hu et al., 2010).

Figure 1: Hydrogen-based Steel production. Source: Tackling the challenge of decarbonizing steelmaking

The other component that has significantly gained importance in the construction industry is cement, due to its high carbon effects on the environment. Cement is one of the core components used in construction (Fennell et al., 2021). Although, causing 8% of the global emissions have increased the companies take care of the situation.

Cemex is one of the European Cement making companies that has developed decarbonized cement while replacing limestone-based clinker with an Alkali-activated polymer matrix. This process doesn’t require high levels of heat which helps indirectly reduce carbon emissions by 70% (Craig Bettenhausen, 2020). Although, the figure provided below shows the share of global Co2 emission by cement.  

Figure 3: Cement Production and Co2 Emission, Source: Laying the foundation for zero-carbon cement

Relating to these environmental concerns, construction companies have been suggested to use lower impact materials just like sustainable timber to reduce carbon emissions and replace cement (Concu, 2019). Sustainable timber can cover the demand of around 90% of the houses being built and 71% of the corporate buildings while mitigating the use of cement (Pamenter, & Myers, 2021).

However, timber offers a sustainable approach to the construction industry as trees absorb carbon which helps in creating a sustainable environment. Timber allows for a win-win situation, as it helps in expanding the carbon reservoir and at the same time reduces carbon emissions from the environment (Ramage et al., 2017). Moreover, to conceptualize the process of decarbonization, timber can compete with concrete and steel with the effective use of glue lamination. Similarly, even to further decarbonize the effects of timber, a green option is still available which involves the use of laminated veneer lumber (LVL) (Hildebrandt et al., 2017). Unlike steel, timber will help in having an impact on both social and environmental sustainability.


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