Many companies have found solid reasons for attempting to achieve a net-negative CO2 future. The business value continues to grow. I told my typically conservative boss early on at Automation World that the next issue’s topic was Green (as it was known then). He gave me “that” look. I told him think green as in the color of American dollar bills. What’s good for the environment is also good for business. After all, eliminating waste is a central tenet of Lean.

This news of a report from UK analyst firm IDTechEx written by Analyst Eva Pope recently came my way. It is worth checking out the report for ideas that go far beyond concrete production.

She leads with this thought. In a world with a growing population and a rapidly expanding construction sector to match, how do we prevent building homes from damaging our climate? Concrete is the second most consumed material on Earth, but its key ingredient, cement, is responsible for 7% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The answer could come from thin air – CO2-derived building materials.

The new IDTechEx report “Carbon Dioxide Utilization 2024-2044: Technologies, Market Forecasts, and Players” explores many ways to valorize captured carbon dioxide to create useful products. Among these, CO2-derived building materials showed particular promise due to performance improvements and cost-competitiveness, as well as sustainability benefits. IDTechEx forecasts over 170 million tonnes of captured CO2 will be utilized in building materials by 2044.

Carbon dioxide can be utilized in concrete production in three different ways: injection of CO2 during curing of precast concrete, injection of CO2 during mixing of ready-mixed concrete, and formation of carbonate aggregates/additives.

Unlike some other carbon dioxide utilization pathways, such as the conversion to e-fuels, which requires large amounts of energy and green hydrogen (often prohibitively expensive), the basic mineralization chemistry underpinning the uptake of CO2 during concrete manufacturing is thermodynamically favored and less energy-intensive because stable metal carbonates are formed. These carbonates represent effectively permanent sequestration of CO2, so CO2-derived building materials double up as simultaneous carbon dioxide utilization and carbon dioxide storage. The process is compatible with many different sources of CO2.

Concrete production is typically low-margin, and willingness to pay a green premium is low. Therefore, widespread deployment of CO2-derived concrete will rely on CO2 utilization technology players, creating easy-to-adopt solutions that are minimally disruptive to existing manufacturing processes. In CO2-aided curing, some players have targeted retrofittable curing chambers. Elsewhere, plug-and-play and mobile unit solutions are also being commercialized.

Although the production of CO2-derived concrete is more expensive than conventional concrete, revenue can be generated through waste disposal fees and carbon credit sales, with some players already reporting to achieve price parity. In the future, stronger regulatory support (for example, increased carbon pricing) will accelerate uptake further, with IDTechEx forecasting over 170 million tonnes of captured CO2 will be utilized in building materials by 2044. With carbon capture solutions for cement kilns continuing to develop, CO2 could be sourced from cement production, creating a circular solution.

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