Another way to save energy

If you’re already making serious inroads into your personal energy consumption and find Energy Saving Week’s guidance less than challenging, then it’s time to consider less obvious ways of curbing energy consumption.

We’re often told the airline industry is a major producer of carbon emissions and we’re urged to either not fly or only fly if genuinely necessary.

But flying is not as ubiquitous as it sometimes seems to the well-heeled west, nor is it as fundamental to modern life in almost all areas of the world as an even bigger polluter – one that emits twice as much carbon as the aircraft industry.Flying is not as fundamental as the foundation of your house. Nor is it as fundamental as the block walls or the mortar that holds the walls together.

Flying is not as fundamental as the kerb and guttering you cross in your car as you leave your house, it’s not as fundamental as the modern bridges you cross or pass under on the way to work, nor is it as fundamental as the entire building you work in.

Flying is not as fundamental as the supermarket you shop in, the dam that stores your drinking water, the silos that store grain for the flour to make your bread, the dairies where the cows are milked for your daily half pint, the sewers to carry off effluent, and many more examples.

What is much, much more fundamental than flying to modern life is cement.

Cement binds sand and stones into concrete. Concrete is the world’s most widely used building material, making cement the “glue” that holds the modern world together.

The industry produces about 1.6 billion tonnes of cement a year.

The problem is that cement production uses vast amounts of energy to first crush and blend limestone (calcium carbonate), silicon, aluminum and iron oxides and then to heat the blended materials at extremely high temperatures.

Production of just one tonne of cement results in the emission of 900kg of carbon dioxide, which means global carbon emissions by the cement industry total 1.44 billion tonnes.

The cement industry, keen to avoid finding its way into the headlines in the same way that the aircraft industry has, is trying to keep both a low profile and develop more sustainable methods of cement production.

But there is another means of curbing carbon emissions and energy consumption from cement production – and it’s a solution that individuals can help implement.

If there isn’t the demand for cement, then it will not be produced, cutting energy consumption and reducing carbon emissions.

Ask yourself if you really need a bigger, new-build convetional house with a concrete foundation and concrete block walls.

Ask yourself if you really need that extension, that patio or that conservatory.

Ask if your shed really does need a foundation made of poured concrete or concrete slabs.

Ask if your new garden wall really does need to be built of concrete blocks with cement mortar and cement render, or reclaimed stone and lime mortar be equally effective.

If you want to move beyond the personal and look at your community, ask if it’s more effective to refurbish old public buildings with sustainable materials instead of replacing them with new builds that require vast amounts of concrete.

Ask if it’s really appropriate for a vast new superstore to be built using vast amounts of concrete, to replace existing shops that are more than fit for purpose.

Ask if it’s right to expand or build new airports, which require prodigious amounts of concrete and lead to increased air travel.

Obviously, there is and will be a need for cement to build many of the necessary structures that we all need if modern society is to survive and function in a sustainable manner – wind and wave power would be a no-go without concrete for a start.

But there are many, many unnecessary and wasteful uses of cement that could be cut if we had the will.

So, as well as putting your wash cycle to 30C, insulating your house and changing your light bulbs, will you also commit to saving energy and curbing carbon emissions by leading a low-cement life?

3 Responses to “Another way to save energy”

  1. Any thoughts on Limecrete?

  2. We’ve looked into limecrete and, should funds permit, will use it to put a new floor down in the old cottage at some point.

    Limecrete breathes more than concrete – which is important in older properties like ours; the hydraulic lime used to make limecrete is much more environmentally friendly than cement; and it is possible to make it in such a way that it meets current insulation requirements.

    But, it should also be remembered that lime does have environmental impacts – the quarrying of limestone, the heating of the kiln in which quicklime is made, etc.

    We already use lime ourselves – we’ve repaired and repointing areas of the steading with lime mortar, which is sympathetic to the original structure, less damaging to the remaining original lime mortar and the stone than cement, and less environmentally damaging than cement.

    We’ve also used limewash to paint the two pens in the byres, a section of exposed stone wall in our sitting room and a length of stone wall.


  1. The Concrete Jungle « Ockham’s Razor - 2 November, 2007

    [...] crofter Stonehead mentioned that the airline industry is a major producer of carbon emissions and we’re urged to [...]

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