MIT Research Focused On Concrete, Sustainability

While concrete is the most widely used building material, the production of some of its component materials accounts for up to 5% of global carbon dioxide emissions annually. To address the sustainability and environmental implications of the use of concrete in construction, MIT has announced the creation of the Concrete Sustainability Hub, a research center established at MIT in collaboration with the Portland Cement Association (PCA) and Ready Mixed Concrete (RMC) Research & Education Foundation.

The Concrete Sustainability Hub (CSH), established with the goal of accelerating emerging breakthroughs in concrete science and engineering and transferring that science into practice, will provide $10 million of sponsored research funding during the next five years. Researchers from MIT’s School of Engineering, School of Architecture and Planning, and Sloan School of Management are expected to participate in the CSH’s research activities.

Components of concrete (image courtesy of Portland Cement Association)
Components of concrete (image courtesy of Portland Cement Association)

The launch of CSH on October 5, 2009 came a week after an announcement that the U.S. EPA is moving to enact rules that would curtail greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and large industrial manufacturers. If enacted, these rules would likely impose regulations on all 118 cement plants in the U.S. The RMC and PCA leaders expressed their hope that research results emerging from CSH projects will help ease the way for the industry to meet any changes that would be required by those new regulations.

“The concrete industry has the honor of producing the world’s most favored building material, but this honor comes with a responsibility for the industry to minimize its ecological footprint,” said Julie Garbini, executive director of the RMC Research & Education Foundation.

Brian McCarthy, CEO and president of PCA, added “The MIT research team is an exceptional group of dedicated interdisciplinary faculty and the CSH will take a holistic approach to research that allows science to feed seamlessly into today’s concrete applications like paving and wall systems. For ultimately, the greatest opportunity for the building industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may lay in the development of more durable and energy efficient roads, houses, and buildings.”

“This collaboration is an excellent example of how MIT is addressing complex, interconnected issues of sustainability–and working to provide solutions,” said Subra Suresh, Dean of Engineering and Vannevar Bush Professor of Engineering at MIT. “Putting engineers together with economists, urban planners, architects, and industry experts and practitioners on issues related to our built infrastructure will create truly novel opportunities for intervention.”

CSH research is initially be organized around three focus areas: concrete materials science, building technology, and the econometrics of sustainable development. The first two projects, “Green Concrete Science,” and “The Edge of Concrete: A Life-Cycle Investigation of Concrete and Concrete Structures” are already underway. Franz-Josef Ulm, the Macomber Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will serve as the CSH’s inaugural director and is the lead investigator on the Green Concrete Science project. The CSH will be co-directed by John Ochsendorf, Class of 1942 Career Development Associate Professor of Building Technology in the Department of Architecture and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. (Those interested in following the research can contact Denise Brehm, MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering,

“It is rare that one has an opportunity to have a positive environmental impact on the most prevalent building material in the world,” said Ulm. “This means working closely with industry partners over time to ensure that our ideas and research are sustainable economically, as well as environmentally, and are a source of job creation.”