Lafarge Canada has announced their investment into a Queen’s University led research project with their new ECOPact concrete, designed to generate from 30% to 100% less carbon emissions.

The company is the country’s largest provider of sustainable construction materials, and said last week that the work being done by the Queen’s led research team aligns with their environmental goals.

“Lafarge is excited to participate in a project like this one – it fits perfectly into our green growth roadmap,” said Lafarge Canada Innovation and Development Manager Abdurahman Lotfy in a news release.

“This models the sort of partnerships we need to foster innovation in building design and advance our sustainability targets.”

The research, which officially launched in January, is focused on generating low-carbon concrete design, with the research team taking several approaches towards this goal according to the project’s leader and Queen’s Civil Engineering Professor, Dr. Neil Hoult.

“We will be working on several different approaches to making concrete lower carbon,” said Dr. Hoult in the release.

“The first is shape optimization, in other words only putting material only where we need material, which saves on not only material use, but also structure weight. If the structure is lighter, then you need even less material. The second is what is known as functionally graded concrete. We put concrete with higher strength where we need the strength, then we use lower strength concrete (which also means lower cement concrete) everywhere else.”

Most of what is built in civil infrastructure involves reinforced concrete, and as a result roughly 10% of global CO2 emissions are generated through its production.

Dr. Hoult says that this research project aims to cut that number down as much as 50%.

He says the relatively inexpensive price of concrete has caused it to be overused in modern construction.

“Making construction as easy as possible has meant that the costs have been as low as possible,” said Dr. Hoult.

“The result of that has been that the structure itself in terms of use of materials and in terms of how optimized it is to carry the loads is not as efficient as it could be, so as a result we’re using more concrete than we need to.”

Now as the federal government brings in regulations for federal infrastructure where CO2 emissions will carry a cost, efficiency in construction will become much more important.

Queen’s Assistant Professor Josh Woods, another academic lead on the project, said building owners are going to be made to go green because it is more cost effective.

“Now, the reality is, with the price on carbon coming into play building owners are really going to have to think about the implications of building with concrete,” Woods said.

“Suddenly it might become less cost efficient to build with concrete just because of the taxes that are associated with it.”

Along with Hoult and Woods, the research team includes University of Toronto Engineering Professor Evan Bentz, and Dr. John Orr, an Assistant Professor in University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering.

Woods said each of the academic leads involved bring a different, specific area of expertise to the table as a large team of partners push to see the success of this project.

Along with Lafarge as a materials expert, a number of partners in the construction industry have staked interest and offered their support in the research.

ARUP joined the project consulting on engineering, KPMB on the architectural side, AECON construction, as well as the City of Kingston and Cement Association of Canada.

Dr. Hoult says everyone invested in this brings some level and area of expertise, and is genuinely invested in change being made.

“It’s really a mutually beneficial partnership in that everyone can contribute something,” Dr. Hoult said.

“The great thing is that every industry partner really wants to see this change happen because they all recognize the negative impact that the construction industry currently has in terms of the environment.”

Woods said architects are excited for this because while the main focus is decreasing the amount of carbon, optimizing the structure of buildings to use less concrete in general has the added benefit of making them more interesting looking.

“We can create structures which not only are more environmentally friendly, not only does it use less concrete, but they also look amazing,” Woods said.

“It’s suddenly no longer just rectangular, big square concrete buildings, it has really interesting form and it turns out that form has been optimized.” 

Part of their work will include designing a building utilizing the optimizations in the City of Kingston, and the team says if all goes well they’re hopeful it could be done next summer.