Abstract

Calcination of carbonate rocks during the manufacture of cement produced 5% of global CO2 emissions from all industrial process and fossil-fuel combustion in 20131,2. Considerable attention has been paid to quantifying these industrial process emissions from cement production2,3, but the natural reversal of the process—carbonation—has received little attention in carbon cycle studies. Here, we use new and existing data on cement materials during cement service life, demolition, and secondary use of concrete waste to estimate regional and global CO2 uptake between 1930 and 2013 using an analytical model describing carbonation chemistry. We find that carbonation of cement materials over their life cycle represents a large and growing net sink of CO2, increasing from 0.10 GtC yr−1 in 1998 to 0.25 GtC yr−1 in 2013. In total, we estimate that a cumulative amount of 4.5 GtC has been sequestered in carbonating cement materials from 1930 to 2013, offsetting 43% of the CO2 emissions from production of cement over the same period, not including emissions associated with fossil use during cement production. We conclude that carbonation of cement products represents a substantial carbon sink that is not currently considered in emissions inventories1,3,4.

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Acknowledgements

Supported by the NSFC (41473076, 41501605, 51578344, 31100346, 41629501, 71533005), Fund of Youth Innovation Promotion Association, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Fund of Fellowships for Young International Distinguished Scientists in Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, National Key R&D Program of China (2016YFA0602604), the UK Economic and Social Research Council funded project ‘Dynamics of Green Growth in European and Chinese Cities’ (ES/L016028/1), and the UK Natural Environment Research Council funded project ‘Integrated assessment of the emission-health-socioeconomics nexus and air pollution mitigation solutions and interventions in Beijing’ (NE/N00714X/1).

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenyang 110016, China

    • Fengming Xi
    • , Steven J. Davis
    • , Lanzhu Ji
    • , Longfei Bing
    •  & Jiaoyue Wang
  2. Key Laboratory of Pollution Ecology and Environmental Engineering, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenyang 110016, China

    • Fengming Xi
  3. College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Shenyang Jianzhu University, Shenyang 110168, China

    • Fengming Xi
    •  & Tiemao Shi
  4. University of California, Irvine, Department of Earth System Science, Irvine, California 92697, USA

    • Steven J. Davis
  5. Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement, CEA-CNRS-UVSQ, CE Orme des 14 Merisiers, 91191 Gif sur Yvette Cedex, France

    • Philippe Ciais
  6. Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research, Department of Land Economy, University of Cambridge, 19 Silver Street, Cambridge CB3 9EP, UK

    • Douglas Crawford-Brown
    •  & Mark Syddall
  7. School of International Development, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK

    • Dabo Guan
  8. Danish Technological Institute, Gregersensvej, 2630 Taastrup, Denmark

    • Claus Pade
  9. College of Economy and Management, Shenyang Agricultural University, Shenyang 110000, China

    • Jie Lv
  10. CAS Key Laboratory of Low-carbon Conversion Science and Engineering, Shanghai Advanced Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai 201203, China

    • Wei Wei
  11. Department of Plant Architectural Engineering, Kyonggi University, Gwanggyosan-ro 154-42, Yeongtong-gu, Suwon, Kyonggi-do 16227, South Korea

    • Keun-Hyeok Yang
  12. Swedish Cement and Concrete Research Institute, CBI Betonginstitutet, SE-100 44 Stockholm, Sweden

    • Björn Lagerblad
  13. Department of Chemistry, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24 3UE, UK

    • Isabel Galan
  14. Eduardo Torroja Institute CSIC, Serrano Galvache 4, 28033 Madrid, Spain

    • Carmen Andrade
  15. Shenyang Pharmaceutical University, Shenyang 110016, China

    • Ying Zhang
  16. Resnick Sustainability Institute, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA

    • Zhu Liu
  17. John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Zhu Liu

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Contributions

F.X. and Z.L. designed the paper. F.X. conceived the research. F.X., C.P., T.S., J.W., K.H.Y., L.B., I.G., C.A. and P.C. provided the data from different countries and regions. T.S., F.X., J.W. and Y.Z. provided the survey statistics and experimental measurements data. S.J.D., F.X., Z.L., P.C., M.S. and D.C.B. performed the analysis. C.P., J.L., Z.L., L.J., P.C., K.H.Y., L.B., I.G. and Y.Z. provided the reference data. F.X., L.B., D.C.B., Z.L. M.S. and T.S. performed uncertainty analysis. S.J.D. and L.B. drew the figures. All authors contributed to writing the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Zhu Liu.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2840

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