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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Quantifying Environmental Impacts from Concrete Production, While Accounting for Data Variability and Uncertainty

  • Author(s): Cunningham, Patrick R.;
  • Miller, Sabbie A.
  • et al.

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Concrete is the second most-used material on earth, surpassed only by water. Concrete is used in construction of roads, bridges, ports, and buildings. Concrete is also responsible for over 8% of annual anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally. As population and urbanization increase and existing infrastructure deteriorates, demand for production of concrete will increase, and with it, the environmental burdens from its production. The models used to determine environmental impacts of producing concrete have considerable uncertainty and variability. This makes it challenging to identify the most effective means of mitigating these burdens. These challenges are exacerbated by the fact that the key drivers for air pollutant emissions and GHG emissions vary. While many are linked to the energy resources used in the production of cement, there are also notable air pollutant emissions from quarrying practices. Improved understanding of the environmental impacts from producing concrete and the probability of mitigating such impacts will allow decision makers to examine drivers with the greatest likelihood of yielding meaningful emissions reductions. Researchers at the University of California, Davis used an environmental impact assessment methodology to evaluate impacts throughout each stage of concrete production, while accounting for data uncertainty and variability. This methodology permits assessment of the probability of reducing GHG emissions through commonly discussed mitigation methods, as well as the probability of potential co-beneficial reductions or unintended increases in air pollutant emissions.

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