Transformation of Engineering Tools to Increase Material Efficiency of Concrete

In the United States, the production of infrastructure materials, such as concrete and steel, accounts for 13% of the nation’s annual energy demand. The production and use of concrete is among the most substantial and difficult to decarbonize of these materials. With approximately 30% of United States cement being used in concrete for streets and highways and with that concrete typically kept in use for over 40 years, there is a lasting impact from concrete transportation infrastructure design and use decisions. The efficient use of cement in concrete and the efficient use of concrete in applications have been highlighted as necessary means to mitigate the GHG emissions. However, a major shortcoming in the development of green transportation infrastructure systems is the disjoint perspective on design, use, and disposal of their components. The state-of-practice focuses on individual components at single points in time, but overlooks how multiple components interact and how material longevity can affect environmental and monetary costs. This convention can lead to inefficient use of materials in transportation systems. As such, there is an urgent need to improve design and selection tools to facilitate efficient use of cement and concrete. By reducing the demand of these materials through informed design, reductions in burdens on the environment can be achieved.

The research will identify critical relationships for advanced development of concrete systems in the face of unprecedented need. Specifically, this work will advance concrete research for application in sustainable transportation infrastructure by leveraging the integration of materials, structural, and environmental themes. This work will be addressed through the formulation of life cycle inventories and life cycle assessments for concrete to provide a database for informed decisionmaking, followed by the formulation of multicriteria selection tools for selecting appropriate amounts of cement in concrete mixtures and tools for efficient design of concrete based on performance with other materials. Finally, models will be formulated to assess the effects of material longevity on improved sustainability of concrete transportation infrastructure systems.

The proposed work will create new paradigms of how concrete systems can be engineered to synergistically mitigate GHG emissions while lowering cost and improving functionality. This work will lead to development of robust datasets and decisionmaking tools to better quantify the environmental impacts and costs associated with green concrete infrastructure decisions as well as permit comparisons of most efficient improvements. The findings will be used to inform how performance variables can be used to target materials selection and improve the design of concrete infrastructure systems. This work will improve tools available to public and private decision makers that can aid in guiding policy and planning decisions for concrete production and use.

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