Building industry must expand on green foundations
Reducing CO2 will create jobs, lower cost of decarbonising the economy and provide scope for other sectors -- but we must take action soon, writes Ecocem's Donal O'Riain
A green technology revolution is sweeping through Irish construction, one which will reduce the cost of decarbonising the economy and create thousands of sustainable jobs.
You may think that being lumbered with the bailout cost of the biggest banking collapse in history would have taught us to avoid such risks in the future.
Think again. We are now well on our way to making the impact of global warming so great as to make our banking crisis seem no more than a little local difficulty.
Recently, a series of stark warnings has come from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the International Energy Agency, the UN and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, all with the same message: the planet is warming inexorably, the culprit is man-made CO2 emissions, the consequences are catastrophic -- we must act before it's too late.
Rapid action on reducing CO2 emissions is now a business, health and moral imperative. Many in our construction sector have already got the message. But we still have a long way to go. The benefits for Ireland and the economy include a substantial lowering of the cost of decarbonising the economy, the creation of thousands of jobs serving new export markets, and providing more scope to expand other crucial sectors of the economy, such as agriculture and food processing.
Cement, which is the glue that holds together and gives strength to the stones and sand that make up concrete, is the most used and ubiquitous material in the world.
Cement is also an extremely CO2-intensive manufacturing sector -- but a revolution is quietly accelerating.
At the height of the Celtic Tiger, we were producing a lot of cement (5mt pa) and almost as much CO2 (4mt pa). The technology used explains the link between the two: every tonne of cement produced will give rise to the emission of about 0.8 tonnes of CO2.
Ireland now has a 10-year-old green cement industry whose participants supply about one-sixth of the demand for cement in the country. Their technology reduces CO2 emissions by over 95 per cent.
In 2013, green cement was introduced in bags for the first time. The potential exists to meet 50 per cent of cement demand in Ireland by 2020. Ireland will then have the least-polluting, highest quality and most competitive cement offering in Europe. This will culminate in savings of hundreds of millions of taxpayers' euro with the creation of thousands of new and sustainable jobs in the Irish manufacturing industry.
Many engineers and architects within the industry already insist on the use of low-CO2 cements, as the Dublin Convention Centre and the Aviva Stadium attest. The whole of the industry is following this pioneering lead.
A new low-carbon concrete manufacturing sector has emerged, exporting to the UK market -- where concrete made from low-CO2 cement is now routinely specified for major civil engineering works. This sector has grown by 140 per cent in three years; it is already taking 3 per cent of the UK market, generating 300 jobs in Ireland and supplying the most prestigious UK projects. All concrete for the London Crossrail mega-project is manufactured with Irish green cement. We can expect to see over 1,000 more jobs created in the sector in the medium term.
The Government says it is committed to green public procurement, and plans have been in preparation for over two years. The finalised policy for the construction sector is expected within months.
It is absolutely vital that this policy be a game-changer.
In 2014, the Government will publish its Carbon Roadmap for Ireland, setting out how the country will transition at lowest cost to a low carbon economy by 2050. A discussion document, prepared by Ecocem, was issued in November to get feedback from across the construction industry for a submission to Government on this plan.
The adoption of green technology in cement production in Ireland is a revolution whose time has come.
Donal O'Riain is founder and MD of Ecocem Materials Ltd, Ireland's leading manufacturer of low-CO2 cement