“Fire safety is an important aspect of sustainable construction – we need to keep our citizens safe!”
MIKAEL SVANBERG, European Fire Fighters Unions Alliance
According to the European Commission, 75% of the EU population live in towns and cities. Demographic trends suggest this proportion will continue to increase. Living space will be at a premium. This presents a range of challenges, including the need for housing water and sanitation, energy supply and transport infrastructure.
Concrete is a highly flexible, durable, affordable and energy-efficient material that can effectively address a wide variety of needs. It can provide above-ground and underground infrastructure, ranging from energy-efficient buildings and housing, to water infrastructure, roads and innovative underground transport solutions. Concrete can also be cast into virtually any shape or form, which allows for design freedom and variety in the applications. Concrete provides the very foundations of Europe's "smart cities" of the future.
The trend towards increasing urbanisation results in a growing need for affordable housing. The concrete sector can help tackle the shortage of housing and the need for rapid construction by providing comfortable, affordable and energy efficient housing. Its flexibility means that concrete can also be found in interior settings such as kitchens and bathrooms. Concrete's ability to absorb temperature variations (called thermal mass) contributes to building comfort as well as lower costs. Its durability means maintenance and renovation are also reduced.
Concrete is made to last. It can withstand major shocks, absorb sound, and regulate temperatures. Concrete buildings can have a minimum service life of 50 years, but may remain serviceable for hundreds of years, if properly maintained. The durability and resilience of concrete makes it ideal for constructing buildings that demand high safety levels. For example, nuclear power plants and hydroelectric dams are constructed almost entirely of concrete. It has properties that will be mandatory as national building codes are revised to address extreme weather linked to climate change, such as rising sea levels and storms.
Safety comes as standard with concrete. It does not require special coatings or sealers. Concrete has unsurpassed and proven fire resistance properties. It does not burn or melt and retains its structural stability at high temperatures. This, combined with its affordability, acoustic performance and healthier indoor air quality is why concrete is ideal for building hospitals, schools and other public buildings.
The concrete industry is working hard to improve the responsible sourcing of materials throughout the supply chain. In the UK for example, by 2011 almost 96% of ready-mixed concrete was certified as responsibly sourced. This certification covers organisational governance, supply chain management and environmental and social aspects.
Concrete's durability, low maintenance and lower whole life costs and impacts mean it is perfectly suited for road pavements. As well as offering a comfortable, safe and quiet ride, concrete roads also contribute to reducing CO₂ emissions of vehicles. On top of all this, concrete roads ensure increased fire safety in tunnels!
Linking Lyon's metro to the southwest of the city would bring a major transport hub within minutes of the city centre. However, this meant building a 1.8 km long, 8.35m diameter tunnel under the Rhône.
As the riverbed soil was unstable, this required the ingenious use of several types of concrete. An eco-friendly binder stabilised the soil before boring, followed by reinforced concrete for lining the walls and for structural elements such as pillars.
“Financial institutions need to be convinced that sustainable construction offers better returns on investment”
Pavel Misiga, European Commission, DG Environment
Construction drives economic growth, innovation and jobs. It is the largest single economic activity and the greatest industrial employer in Europe with some 20 million jobs. The concrete industry as a whole employs some 550 000 people in the EU and generates approximately €65 000 added value per employed capita per annum. A European Commission analysis has concluded that one job created in construction means two additional jobs are created elsewhere. Therefore the construction sector, including concrete, is fundamental to stimulating Europe's recovery. However, it needs the right economic incentives to encourage innovation, create local jobs and ensure the right skills levels in the next generation.
Concrete is a local business, employing local people. Money and investment in construction are pumped back into the local economy.
The components that go into making concrete – aggregates, cement, and water - are also sourced locally. The production value also remains local. Most ready-mixed concrete is only transported around 20 to 30km from the production site. Some high-value manufactured concrete products are transported up to 200km. With this heavy emphasis on the local, the sector is vitally important to the strengthening of local economies and delivering a stable, continuous source of jobs and economic activity - local European products for the local European market.
Concrete is a main enabler of modern construction. It has limitless potential for innovation and new ways to enhance the performance of the material, which provide ever greater returns on small investments, which make a big difference to our everyday lives. Innovations include pervious concrete, which replicates the natural infiltration of water into soil thereby reducing flooding and the negative impacts of soil sealing. Meanwhile photocatalytic concretes can remove pollutants such as carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide from the air - they are "smog-eating" and self-cleaning!
Concrete is widely available and affordable without compromising on quality and strength. It offers versatility and stunning aesthetic qualities. As concrete can be poured on-site to any required shape, it allows architects and engineers to express complex, dynamic and attractive forms. Innovation over the past 30 years in high-strength concrete gives designers even more flexibility than ever before. In addition, the strength, colour and finish can also be specified.
The Vidin-Calafat Bridge (also known as the Danube Bridge 2) links the cities of Calafat (Romania) and Vidin (Bulgaria).
Its construction created 980 new jobs in the region, €60 million direct investment into the local economy, and dramatically improved passenger transport infrastructure.
The type of concrete used was chosen for its low permeability, high density and strength.
“We should be focusing on both sustainable buildings AND neighbourhoods – an attractive place where people want to live!”
Lieven Roelandt, Matexi NV (building developer)
Concrete offers the highest level of "whole-life performance" and the industry is continually striving to provide a net positive environmental impact throughout the lifetime of its products.
At the heart of the Concrete Initiative's efforts is a "whole-life performance" approach. This is a concept whereby all impacts, including those from raw material extraction, manufacturing, construction, use of the building, to end-of-life disposal or reuse, are taken together when assessing the impacts of a given construction. Focusing on just part of the lifecycle would give a misleading idea of the overall impacts of buildings and infrastructure projects. When looked at from this whole-life perspective, the benefits of concrete become evident, thanks in particular to its durability, thermal mass, and the availability and abundance of its raw materials (including a large proportion of secondary materials).
Concrete buildings can provide substantial energy savings during their lifetime. The high level of thermal mass in concrete constructions means that indoor temperatures remain stable irrespective of external fluctuations. This sharply reduces the need for extra heating or cooling (as well as providing greater comfort). As the energy use of buildings accounts for the largest part of their environmental impact, increased energy efficiency in buildings offsets the impact resulting from materials production.
Cement uses alternative fuels and materials from wastes to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels and primary raw materials. The environmental impact is further reduced by using by-products from other industries, such as slag and fly ash. At the end of its life, concrete can be fully recycled, either into new concrete or in other applications such as road base. Therefore concrete is part of the "circular economy".
The industry recognises the impact of its resource extraction activities on the landscape. For example, the cement industry has developed a clear set of principles on quarry rehabilitation under the auspices of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development's Cement Sustainability Initiative. It has also invested in quarry rehabilitation programmes. For example, the Landscape Rehabilitation Plan in the SECIL-Outão Plant (Portugal) integrated a marl and limestone quarry back into the natural landscape, and restored the native vegetation . The Concrete Initiative is committed to developing best practices in protecting local biodiversity and ecosystems.
Two-storey floating houses, developed in the Netherlands, are built upon a 70 tonne watertight concrete box, providing buoyancy in times of flooding and additional space in the form of a basement.
If there is flooding, the homes can move vertically by up to five metres, whilst being anchored by two concrete piles, thus avoiding lateral movemeænt.
The floating house concept demonstrates the strength and water tightness of concrete; invaluable assets for flood-prone areas.
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