Though not yet the norm, low-carbon concrete is gaining ground, as exemplified by use in megaprojects including the Amazon headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, and Microsoft’s data center in Quincy, Washington. Nonetheless, first time use can understandably be daunting for contractors. Here is expert advice about getting started.
Reducing Carbon Emissions
Reminding us that concrete is “the second-most used substance on Earth after water,” and thus “contributes at least 8% of all human-caused carbon emissions,” Construction Dive points out “there are now a wide variety of low-carbon mixes and carbon sequestration methods on the market that have a lower environmental impact than standard Portland cement,” and notes that increased use “has been spurred by the federal government, which is developing global warming potential requirements for concrete as part of its Buy Clean initiative to be used to award funding for its projects.”
It’s best for contractors interested in trying out concrete alternatives to get started by talking to local suppliers, since the availability and types of low-carbon cements varies regionally:
There are now at least dozens of types of low-carbon cements on the market, but not all are in mass production or available in every region. Talk with your supplier about what green mixes can service a given project, said Juan Gonzalez, manager of strategic development and sustainability at Central Concrete Supply in San Jose, California. Some useful questions to ask your supplier include:
- Which low-carbon mixes are available in your concrete catalog?
- What are your low-carbon concrete strategies?
- What SCMs are available to mix into Portland cement?
- What are ways to bring carbon-reduction to the next level on your project?
Word from the field also points to the importance of starting small, allotting time for testing, and working closely with suppliers, who rely on feedback as low-carbon mixes are refined. Specific suggestions include:
- The first time trying a low-carbon material, don’t use it for the whole project — start with a low-stakes component that requires only minimal load bearing, such as rat slabs, temporary access mats, curbs or landscaping walls….Use these test projects to gain an understanding of how the material behaves, and to win over more skeptical members of the project team.
- Low-carbon concrete typically uses less cement by substituting some percentage for supplementary cementing materials such as fly ash, slag and silica fume — all industrial byproducts that can perform a similar binding role. SCMs can be used individually with Portland or blended cement and in different combinations….
- Do more test cylinders when first using a new cement. Try a few different types of low-carbon mixes and see what works best for your needs.
When shifting to low-carbon concrete, it’s also important to choose projects and customers wisely. As with most new products, there’s a cost to change, so until “the market goes through the process of adjustment to this flood of new options, low-carbon concrete continues to cost more than Portland cement.” Fortunately, many project owners value reducing the carbon footprint and “are more willing to experiment — and to pay for the cost of experimentation,” and even “set bid-leveling criteria to account for low-carbon concrete.”
Having the right partner on your side, and bid bonds at your fingertips, will come in handy as you think forward too. Colonial Surety’s here to help, with a surety line of credit, speedy bonds, free financial intel, and more, via The Partnership Account® for Contractors.
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Also Good To Do: Go Digital
Given that supply chain failures are a habitual challenge for contractors, industry experts are urging us all to better leverage time saving digital approaches:
Material and equipment shortages can create major roadblocks to project completion. If a manufacturer or supplier fails to deliver as expected, or (worst-case scenario) stops producing an essential component, tracking down alternate resources can pose quite a challenge. Even when alternative options are readily available, the reconfiguration required to adjust to changes in timing and cost can be massively time-consuming – and expensive. Today’s more advanced GCs are leveraging digital tools that can assist in this type of scenario, tuning assumptions about what inputs will be available so that construction continues as quickly as possible.
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