DENVER — Colorado is expected to receive several billion dollars in funding from the federal infrastructure package passed by Congress in November. The funds can go to highways, bridges, and public transport, adding up to a lot of concrete that could be used.
It comes after state legislators passed HB21-1303, which requires the Office of the State Architect and the Department of Transportation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from construction materials in state-funded building and transportation projects.
“By using the power of the state purse, it can foster the same kind of activities in the private industry," said Rep. Tracey Bernett, D-Boulder, one of the primary sponsors of the legislation. “My favorite memory about getting this bill passed was at 10 o'clock on a Saturday night, talking to my colleagues on the House floor about concrete. Well, why would you ever care about concrete?”
Bernett says there are countless reasons to care about concrete when it comes to climate change, and those working at Brannan Ready Mix in Denver agree.
“This plant alone produces between 1,200 and 1,500 yards [of concrete] per day," said Mike Yale, sales manager for Brannan Ready Mix. “It goes all over the Denver metropolitan area.”
Will Srubar, associate professor of architectural engineering for the University of Colorado at Boulder, says concrete is the second most consumed material on earth after water.
“Because we use so much of it, and because the process of making concrete is actually carbon intensive, this has global environmental consequences," Srubar said. “The production of cement alone, the powder that we use to make concrete, contributes 7% of our global CO2 emissions. That's a huge number... To put that into perspective, that's almost four times what aviation emissions are.”
However, concrete is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when considering greenhouse gas emissions. Srubar says it needs to become a bigger part of the conversation.
“Concrete is the literal foundation of our society. We build roads, bridges, your driveway out of concrete," said Srubar. “We have the power to change the industry.”
One of the forces changing the industry is CarbonCure, a company founded in Canada that created a technology that introduces recycled CO2 into concrete as it is being made. The CO2 increases the compressive strength of the concrete, meaning less cement needs to be added.
"Reducing the cement means that producers can reduce their carbon footprint by up to four percent or six percent," said Carly Paige, technical services manager for CarbonCure. "It's a technology that permanently sequesters CO2.”
Paige says having businesses participate in the climate crisis is critical. She says there is a cost associated with the technology and services offered by CarbonCure, but through mix optimization and working with the Brannan Ready Mix sales team, it is cost neutral.
Those behind the partnership say technology like CarbonCure will help Colorado meet it's goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, and reducing them by 90 percent by 2050.