MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub (CSH)
In 2009, in response to increasing environmental concerns about the building industry, the Portland Cement Association (PCA) and Ready Mixed Concrete Research & Education Foundation partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering to perform a life-cycle study of the sustainability of concrete, and to speed up advances in concrete engineering. This partnership is known as the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub (CSHub).
Now, after two years, the first phase of the CSHub study is complete. The Phase I findings were detailed in three research reports: Life-Cycle Assessment of Buildings, Life-Cycle Assessment of Pavements, and The Effects of Inflation and its Volatility on the Choice of Construction Alternatives. In each case, the findings show that despite the environmental impact of cement production, concrete has less environmental impact over a structure's life cycle than other building materials.
To-date, the study's main findings about concrete include:
Lower Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions from Buildings - Researchers found that concrete homes produce lower emissions over a 60-year service life than current best-practice, code compliant wood-framed homes. Commercial office buildings with a concrete structural frame also produce slightly lower GHG emissions over 60 years than steel-framed commercial structures.
Better Fuel Economy - Researchers found that pavements with greater stiffness offer better fuel economy. Concrete is significantly stiffer than asphalt; in fact, asphalt pavements would have to be about 60% thicker than concrete pavement to achieve the same stiffness.
Lower Road Cost - The study found that over a 50-year timeframe, the mean real price of concrete decreases by 50%, while the mean price of asphalt increases by 95%. So in the long run, considering the costs of maintenance and rehabilitation, concrete roads are more cost-effective than asphalt roads.
The CSHub is also researching ways to optimize the sustainability of the cement and concrete manufacturing processes. The comprehensive CSHub research reports are available to the public at at the CSHub web site. Corresponding one-page fact sheets are also available at the PCA Think Harder web site.
As a member company and industry leader, Lafarge is following the progress of this research at close range.