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Cooking up greener concrete via recipe-as-a-service platform

© Shutterstock / ElnurPost Thumbnail

Making concrete greener and more sustainable can help reduce the 8% of global greenhouse gas emitted by the industry. An AI based service helps producers optimise locally available materials to make cleaner and more cost-efficient concrete.

  • AICrete, a start-up with a recipe-as-a-service approach to making concrete greener and more cost efficient, has received $4 million in venture funding.
  • It aims to reduce concrete industry emissions by 35%, by improving the complexities of material selection and proportioning in the production process. 
  • If successful, this model can help the concrete industry reach its 2025 emissions reduction target of 30%, in support of ConcreteZero’s 2050 goal.

Collaborative initiatives like the ConcreteZero initiative, and the Mission Possible Partnership (MPP) are looking for ways to drive concrete emission to net zero by 2050.

Producers of cement, an essential component of concrete and largely responsible for its carbon footprint, are looking for ways to produce green cement, which will also help reduce concrete’s carbon footprint.

What does AI-based recipe-as-a-service mean?

AICrete’s claims to combine domain expertise in structural materials with artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, so that local producers can come up with the optimal mix of locally available materials to make concrete best suited to their needs.

Domain expertise comes from founder and CEO Parham Aghdasi’s PhD and postdoctoral work in structural materials at Berkeley University, along with over 10 years of experience in developing concrete composites for government and private projects globally. 

The process involves a client sending their requirements, in the form of properties and objectives of the material, including raw material data sheets and costs for the mixtures, and samples of raw materials to AICrete’s lab in Richmond, California.

Using its proprietary models, algorithms and database, the company devises combinations of the raw materials that best achieve the client objective, whilst minimising cost and/or CO2 per cubic yard.

This is in line with the company’s stated mission is – “…to double profitability of ready-mix and precast concrete producers and reduce their CO2 emissions by up to 35%.”

Why net zero concrete is important

Concrete is the most widely manufactured material in the world, and the third largest industrial consumer of energy, after chemicals and metals. An 8% contribution to global GHG emissions makes reducing its carbon footprint of prime importance.

In addition to its emissions and energy use, concrete also consumes 10% of the world’s industrial water supplies. Further adding to its environmental footprint is the steel used in making and transporting reinforced concrete, and the use of non-sea sand.

Transforming the concrete supply chain will require extensive collaboration across industry players, climate action groups, and multilateral organisations. Examples of this are the MPP and the ConcreteZero initiative

MPP has four partners that form its core – the Energy Transitions Commission, RMI, We Mean Business Coalition and the World Economic Forum. It is focused on driving a net-zero transformation in seven heavy emitting sectors including – aluminium, aviation, chemicals, trucking, concrete/cement, shipping and steel.

One of its main aims is to build coalitions across the value chain and lobby policy makers. It also seeks to develop transition strategies for net zero emissions by 2050, get commitments from industry leaders, and track their progress.

To help build targets and transition strategies, it has also formed a technical partnership with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

ConcretZero has 17 founding members, and is led by The Climate Group, with the Green Building Council (GBC) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) as partners.

Green cement development could help reduce concrete carbon

As an essential component of concrete, cement only makes up 10% of its ingredients, but is responsible for the majority of its carbon footprint. A typical concrete mix consists of cement, air and water, and sand and gravel. 

A number of companies are looking to produce “green” cement, and the EU has also funded technical innovations aimed at decarbonising cement.

The use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) methodologies to store carbon within supplementary cementitious materials (SCM), as well as recycling materials are all being used by cement companies to develop low-carbon cement.

Heidelberg Cement (GER:HEI) has used SCM to reduce the CO2 intensity of concrete. It claims its EcoPlus range offers a 60% reduction in CO2, while its Ecocrete product reportedly reduces CO2 by up to 70% by using 100% recycled aggregate.

US-based Green Cement, a subsidiary of Ecomaterial Technologies, has even greater claims, with its cement formulation apparently having up to 99% fewer carbon emissions than traditional cement. 

While these technological innovations to improve the sustainability of concrete appear promising, a lot needs to be done to ensure that they come to market quickly, and without compromising quality or safety.

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