Sustainable Development

Forging Sustainability through Green Concrete: A Holistic Approach

As surprising as it may sound, concrete is the second most consumed material in this world.  Concrete, consists of fine aggregates (sand) and coarse aggregates (rocks, gravel) bonded together by cement which hardens over time giving enormous strength to the composite structure. It was first used around 700 BC by Nabatean Traders who discovered the properties of hydraulic lime with self-cementing properties.  Subsequently, it was not used much until the 18th century when British Engineer John Smeaton built Smeaton Tower using concrete. Since then, it has turned out to be of paramount importance and consequently its use has skyrocketed owing to the manifold properties of concrete such as its high compressive strength, tensile strength, fire resistance and its workability.

Albeit it has been estimated that approximately 10 billion tons of concrete is produced annually, it also poses a plethora of problems to the environment.  For instance, concrete needs cement and it has been estimated that cement alone contributes to a whopping 8% of all worldwide CO2 emissions. Astoundingly, about 900 kg of CO2 is emitted for every 100 kg of cement produced. Furthermore, it also jeopardizes the environment for the cement industries also emit heavy metals into the air which can cause severe air pollution. Besides, concrete damages the most fertile layer of the earth’s topsoil by creating hard surfaces leading to surface runoff, soil erosion, water pollution and even flooding.

In order to address the environmental predicament caused by concrete, the concept of green concrete has nowadays become a subject of extensive research. Green concrete, in popular parlance, is an environment friendly concrete encompassing reduction in CO2 emissions, usage of fossil fuels during production, usage of harmful mixtures in the concrete, savings in the use of cement through substitution by other environment friendly materials and by recycling concrete.

The appraisal of greenness of concrete is possible through the techniques of engineering. The key methods that are used to identify whether concrete is green are evaluating the amount of Portland cement replacement materials, manufacturing processes and methods, life cycle sustainability impacts and so forth.  For instance, concrete’s strength lies in calcium silicate; however if one could discover particles other than calcium silicate that will pack in high densities without burning, it would be quite an achievement.

Furthermore, plummeting the use of energy during cement production would also aid to make the concrete greener. This can be achieved by utilizing inorganic polymers ( geo polymers) which would be a sustainable method for it has lower CO2 emissions compared to Portland cement. Additionally, urban waste (such as municipal solid waste) can also be brought into use for the manufacture of concrete.

Nevertheless, there exist many hindrances in the adoption of the concept of green concrete. Lack of holistic approach in engineering, unwillingness of consumers and profit-oriented business practices have created hurdles in augmenting the prospects of green concrete. It is therefore of utmost importance to translate the theory into practice by holding rigorous discussions among key stakeholders in the local, regional as well as global level.

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