Problem Addressed

Precast is one of the most widely adopted Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), however as a cement-based product, concrete manufacture is a fuel and electro-intensive process, said to be responsible for 4-8% of the world’s CO2 emissions, according to Akerlof.

The Industrial Decarbonisation and Energy Efficiency Roadmap to 2050 exposed an urgent need for UK cement manufacturing to become more resource, energy and carbon efficient, outlining an action plan for Government and industry to pull together to ensure decarbonisation is achieved, cost-effectively. Significant barriers exist however, on both supply and demand sides (not least cost and knowledge gaps) limiting their application to date.

The UK’s first carbon-neutral cement was launched 3 years ago yet adoption and relevant application opportunities are low, with clients, specifiers and contractors cautious of novel building materials. In addition, research by Chatham House identifies the majority of products have failed to achieve commercial viability.

In an industry challenged to reinvent and address strategic priorities, such as net zero carbon, business survival is a priority. The Minerals Product Association (MPA) has expressed the need to develop solutions that are technically feasible and economically viable, maintaining the competitiveness of domestic manufacturers. However, increased demand for products and market growth, stimulated as a result of COVID, without corresponding innovation, could represent a threat to the clean growth strategy of the UK.

Solution Overview

Supported by Innovate UK funding, this R&D project built on existing research to find ways to reduce the embodied carbon of precast concrete, crucially applied against a real-world project for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). The resulting Decarbonising Precast Concrete report provides a step-by-step a guide as to how to achieve an immediate and significant carbon reduction across the supply chain for precast concrete, emphasising collaborative behaviours in order to realise these goals.

The precast solution realised through the Decarbonising Precast Concrete project achieved a 40% reduction in embodied carbon, against the Inventory of Carbon and Energy (ICE) embodied carbon database for building materials. By adopting the recommendations within this report, companies could achieve a 40% reduction in embodied carbon, and set a solid grounding for further innovation to decarbonise concrete.

Innovate UK’s Sustainable Innovation Fund provided a welcome opportunity for the supply chain-led team to freely explore all areas of decarbonisation of a concrete structure, enabling them to challenge existing design and specification rules for optimum carbon outcomes throughout the value chain.

By building on the foundation of existing research the team were able to expedite the development of a commercially-viable, decarbonised precast concrete product, using a set of solutions that can be implemented by companies now to considerably reduce the embodied carbon of structures against industry baselines.

The solution is commercially viable and outputs include:

  • 40% reduction in embodied carbon against ICE Database
  • Easy to manufacture solution that is compliant and technically ready for adoption across multiple sectors
  • Optimised structural strength and improved concrete mix

Through the COLLABORATE – OPTIMISE – TEST – REFINE approach, companies can undertake the same process review to understand and reduce carbon across the value chain. This includes a production and logistics review, development and testing, and design solution optimisation. This is then underpinned by two Carbon Calculators, which identify the differences in carbon impact between traditional and modern methods of construction.

  1. The New whole life carbon Building Level calculator identifies where different concrete mixes and materials can be compared to inform procurement and design decisions. The calculator complies with the following standards: EN 15978, RICS Professional Statement on Whole Life Carbon Assessment for the Built Environment, EN 16757.
  2. The New whole life carbon concrete mix calculator is used to inform procurement and design decisions. The calculator complies with the following standards: PAS 2050:2011, BS EN 15804:2012, EN 16757.

Both the building level and the concrete mix calculators have been independently reviewed by ConstructionLCA. Using the above tools environmental impacts can be measured, valued and visually represented in a dashboard. Data from the supply chain, such as the environmental impacts per m3, m2 or kg of product, can be measured in the tool. This enables the comparison of the net carbon equivalent saving per element of the structure.

Case Study

The team ensured the solution was commercially viable and technically ready for adoption by companies across the sector, in the immediate. The solution is now being rolled out across the £2bn ‘4 New Prisons’ Programme for the Ministry of Justice. “This study demonstrates how collaboration through the supply chain can bring subject matter experts together to develop innovative solutions for decarbonising. We look forward to utilising and embedding such solutions in the Ministry of Justice’s New Prison Programme.’’ Gareth Jones Head of MMC & Technical Services, Ministry of Justice

Read the full case study and video here:

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