BOSTON, Mass. (SHNS)–Since New York last week became the first state in the nation to limit concrete in state-funded building and transportation projects, some on Beacon Hill think it’s time for Massachusetts to take on “embodied carbon” initiatives.
Embodied carbon is the term used to describe the greenhouse gas emissions associated with manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance and disposal of building and infrastructure materials, according to the Mass Climate Action Network. MCAN says embodied carbon accounts for between 11 and 23 percent of annual global emissions, but it is rarely included in conversations around reducing greenhouse gasses.
“Last week, New York issued guidelines for the use of low-carbon concrete in state construction,” said Sen. Cindy Creem during a Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change hearing Monday. In Massachusetts, she said, “progress is happening at the local level, unwilling to wait for state actions.”
Creem said Brookline, Newton, Boston, Cambridge and Somerville have advanced municipal embodied carbon policies. One of the highest drivers of embodied carbon is the energy-intensive process of creating cement.
“Now it’s time for Massachusetts to step up at state level. We are well positioned to make a difference. State government is a major, major buyer of concrete and steel. By using our purchasing power on low-carbon materials, the state can create demand for climate-friendly products,” Creem said.
A Rep. Michelle Ciccolo and Sen. Jo Comerford bill (H 764 / S 2090), introduced for the first time this session, seeks to reduce embodied carbon in buildings.
The bill would establish a state advisory board to address embodied carbon, require the Department of Energy Resources to put forward recommendations and best practices for measuring and reducing the emissions, require a report outlining effective regulation strategies, and require the measurement and reduction of embodied carbon to be incorporated into the state’s building energy code.
Michael Gryniuk, founder and principal at Boston-based structural engineering firm Cora Structural, said that portions of concrete for new buildings can be safely replaced to reduce the embodied carbon. For structural steel, every one ton produced emits about one ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, he said, and enough concrete to fill a mixer truck is worth about three tons of carbon dioxide.
“We can reduce the concrete by simply picking the right replacement technologies, and all of these are available to us today,” he said.
Somerville-based Sublime Systems has raised $50 million to develop emission-free cement, while Woburn-based Boston Metal plans to use $262 million in funding to build a green steel plant in the Boston area.
Gryniuk worked on Boston University’s Center for Computing and Data Sciences, a 19-story building that towers over Storrow Drive. When the building went up in late 2022, it was marketed as “Boston’s largest fossil fuel-free building to date.”
Gryniuk said on Monday that the tower used the highest amount of replacement mixes instead of cement in the city’s history.
“We got a range of 15 to 25 percent embodied carbon reduction in several of the concrete elements with a very very minor impact to cost or construction schedule,” he said.
Other speakers focused on the production of steel and timber, saying that investing in clean production of these industries in Massachusetts would be good both for the environment and the state’s economy.
“There’s many different states as well as municipal jurisdictions around the country, around the world that have been advancing this important area of policy very rapidly in the last couple years,” said Chris Neidl, co-founder of the New York-based OpenAir Collective. The group is a global volunteer network aiming to advance carbon dioxide removal technology.
“We’re at the very beginnings here of decarbonizing concrete, and there are many different solutions that already exist … but there are many more that are in early commercialization or new, and many more on the horizon. So we need the private sector players in this to actually help us identify and add those to projects,” Neidl said.
Creem said she sees the growing sector as “an economic development opportunity for the commonwealth” and thinks “Massachusetts can be at the center of embodied carbon growth.”