Global demand for concrete has grown 3-fold and steel 2-fold over the last 10 years. Both are responsible for approximately 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), 75% of which is associated with buildings and infrastructure.
The UK is currently pursuing two policy agendas related to structural material use and emissions: 1) the 2050 target to reach net zero carbon emissions covers the production, fabrication, and end-of-life treatment of structural materials; 2) the Circular Economy Package (CEP) which aims to turn waste into a resource by closing material loops and improving waste management and recycling. On the surface, these two appear to be mutually aligned, however, this is not always the case.
Recycling or reusing steel offers reductions in whole life carbon (WLC) emissions, over primary steel production, so a CE policy agenda, in this case, helps achieve the net zero targets. However, recycling concrete, by crushing it to use as aggregate in new concrete, typically consumes more virgin cement than using traditional aggregates, and thus results in increased carbon emissions.
This project aims to investigate the alignment between CE and WLC strategies for the construction sector, including resource efficiency. Research will explore both building and infrastructure projects, a range of materials (steel, concrete, timber, fired clays) and assess the real consequences of pursuing circularity and emission reduction strategies.