Substantial global carbon uptake by cement carbonation


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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Figure 1: Annual carbon sequestration by cement 1930–2013.
Figure 2: Net cement emissions and annual sequestration rate 1930–2013.
Figure 3: Allocations of global historical cement process emissions 1930–2013.


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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).

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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.

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Correspondence to Zhu Liu.

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Xi, F., Davis, S., Ciais, P. et al. Substantial global carbon uptake by cement carbonation. Nature Geosci 9, 880–883 (2016).

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