Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Article
  • Published:

Contribution of concrete nitrogenation to global NOx uptake


The renewal and expansion of the built environment within the context of rapid urbanization are imposing new benchmarks for resource management, particularly concerning the billions of tons of consumption and waste generation of concrete materials. The commercialization of carbonation in cementitious materials is underway, opening up possibilities for nitrogenation that has been well documented in recent experimental studies. Here we further utilize a dynamic model to estimate the mitigation potentials of NOx by the promotion of concrete nitrogenation in a global urbanization scenario, projecting its global health and economic benefits toward 2050. Our analysis reveals that concrete nitrogenation can theoretically contribute to a reduction in NOx emissions by approximately 3.4–6.9 Mt—or 6–13% of global industry-related emissions—in 2021. The cumulative economic potential is projected to exceed 150–160 trillion USD, accompanied by a NOx mitigation of 131–384 Mt between 2021 and 2050, equivalent to 75–260 years potentially lost to premature death and reduced quality of life (estimated in terms of disability-adjusted life years). However, both carbonation and nitrogenation techniques rely on the availability of alkaline reactive components within the material, leading to competition. Although significant uncertainty remains, our comparison reveals that, in most regions, promoting the commercialization of nitrogenation exhibits higher feasibility and prioritization over carbonation in relation to both economic and environmental benefits.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1: The process and system boundary of NOx sequestration. The data represent the theoretical results for 2021.
Fig. 2: The economic and environmental benefits of concrete nitrogenation in 2021 with consideration of two scenarios.
Fig. 3: NOx sequestrations in 2021–2050 by region.
Fig. 4: Long-term economic contribution.
Fig. 5: Long-term health contribution.
Fig. 6: Comparison of nitrogenation and carbonation benefits.

Similar content being viewed by others

Data availability

Please find the data used and additional methods in Supplementary Information.


  1. World Energy Outlook 2018. IEA (2018).

  2. McDuffie, E. E. et al. A global anthropogenic emission inventory of atmospheric pollutants from sector- and fuel-specific sources (1970–2017): an application of the Community Emissions Data System (CEDS). Earth Syst. Sci. Data 12, 3413–3442 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Simon, H., Reff, A., Wells, B., Xing, J. & Frank, N. Ozone trends across the United States over a period of decreasing NOx and VOC emissions. Environ. Sci. Technol. 49, 186–195 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Anenberg, S. C. et al. Long-term trends in urban NO2 concentrations and associated paediatric asthma incidence: estimates from global datasets. Lancet Planet. Health 6, e49–e58 (2022).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Huang, T. et al. Spatial and temporal trends in global emissions of nitrogen oxides from 1960 to 2014. Environ. Sci. Technol. 51, 7992–8000 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (European Commission, Joint Research Centre & Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, 2022).

  7. Skalska, K., Miller, J. S. & Ledakowicz, S. Trends in NO abatement: a review. Sci. Total Environ. 408, 3976–3989 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Gholami, F., Tomas, M., Gholami, Z. & Vakili, M. Technologies for the nitrogen oxides reduction from flue gas: a review. Sci. Total Environ. 714, 136712 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Deschênes, O., Greenstone, M. & Shapiro, J. S. Defensive investments and the demand for air quality: evidence from the NOx Budget Program. Am. Econ. Rev. 107, 2958–2989 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Silas, K., Ghani, W. A. W. A. K., Choong, T. S. Y. & Rashid, U. Carbonaceous materials modified catalysts for simultaneous SO2 /NOx removal from flue gas: a review. Catal. Rev. 61, 134–161 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. OECD & European Commission. Cities in the world: a new perspective on urbanisation. OECD (2020).

  12. Monteiro, P. J. M., Miller, S. A. & Horvath, A. Towards sustainable concrete. Nat. Mater. 16, 698–699 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. World Population Prospects 2022: Summary of Results 38 (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2022).

  14. Shah, I. H., Miller, S. A., Jiang, D. & Myers, R. J. Cement substitution with secondary materials can reduce annual global CO2 emissions by up to 1.3 gigatons. Nat. Commun. 13, 5758 (2022).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Duan, H., Miller, T. R., Liu, G. & Tam, V. W. Y. Construction debris becomes growing concern of growing cities. Waste Manag. 83, 1–5 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Liu, J., Chen, Y. & Wang, X. Factors driving waste sorting in construction projects in China. J. Clean. Prod. 336, 130397 (2022).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Zhang, N. et al. Potential for CO2 mitigation and economic benefits from accelerated carbonation of construction and demolition waste. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 169, 112920 (2022).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Horgnies, M., Dubois-Brugger, I. & Gartner, E. M. NOx de-pollution by hardened concrete and the influence of activated charcoal additions. Cem. Concr. Res. 42, 1348–1355 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Ramakrishnan, G. & Orlov, A. Development of novel inexpensive adsorbents from waste concrete to mitigate NOx emissions. Build. Environ. 72, 28–33 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Patel, S., Orlov, A., Ariyachandra, E. & Peethamparan, S. Effect of flue gas temperature on NO2 adsorption by aged recycled concrete Waste: DRIFTS, TGA and BET study. Chem. Eng. J. 420, 130413 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Orlov, A. nitrogen dioxide sequestration using demolished concrete and its potential application in transportation infrastructure development. US Department of Transportation (2016).

  22. Ariyachandra, E., Peethamparan, S., Patel, S. & Orlov, A. Chloride diffusion and binding in concrete containing NO2 sequestered recycled concrete aggregates (NRCAs). Constr. Build. Mater. 291, 123328 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Ma, Q., Guo, R., Zhao, Z., Lin, Z. & He, K. Mechanical properties of concrete at high temperature—a review. Constr. Build. Mater. 93, 371–383 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Liu, J. et al. Carbon and air pollutant emissions from China’s cement industry 1990–2015: trends, evolution of technologies, and drivers. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 21, 1627–1647 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Hasanbeigi, A., Bhadbhade, N. & Ghosh, A. Air pollution from global cement industry—an international benchmarking of criteria air pollutants intensities. Global Efficiency Intelligence (2022).

  26. Schiller, G. & Roscher, J. Impact of urbanization on construction material consumption: a global analysis. J. Ind. Ecol. (2023).

  27. Ortlepp, R., Gruhler, K. & Schiller, G. Materials in Germany’s domestic building stock: calculation model and uncertainties. Build. Res. Inf. 46, 164–178 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Cai, W., Wan, L., Jiang, Y., Wang, C. & Lin, L. Short-lived buildings in China: impacts on water, energy, and carbon emissions. Environ. Sci. Technol. 49, 13921–13928 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Zhang, N. et al. Mitigation of carbon dioxide by accelerated sequestration in concrete debris. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 117, 109495 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Geng, Y., Sarkis, J. & Bleischwitz, R. How to globalize the circular economy. Nature 565, 153–155 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Gollin, D., Jedwab, R. & Vollrath, D. Urbanization with and without industrialization. J Econ Growth 21, 35–70 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Ariyachandra, E., Peethamparan, S., Patel, S. & Orlov, A. Effect of NO2 sequestered recycled concrete aggregate (NRCA) on mechanical and durability performance of concrete. Cem. Concr. Res. 137, 106210 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Berke, N. S. & Hicks, M. C. Predicting long-term durability of steel reinforced concrete with calcium nitrite corrosion inhibitor. Cem. Concr. Compos. 26, 191–198 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Ann, K. Y., Jung, H. S., Kim, H. S., Kim, S. S. & Moon, H. Y. Effect of calcium nitrite-based corrosion inhibitor in preventing corrosion of embedded steel in concrete. Cem. Concr. Res. 36, 530–535 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Oey, T. et al. Calcium nitrate: a chemical admixture to inhibit aggregate dissolution and mitigate expansion caused by alkali-silica reaction. Cem. Concr. Compos. 110, 103592 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Al-Amoudi, O. S. B., Maslehuddin, M., Lashari, A. N. & Almusallam, A. A. Effectiveness of corrosion inhibitors in contaminated concrete. Cem. Concr. Compos. 25, 439–449 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Karagöl, F., Demirboğa, R., Kaygusuz, M. A., Yadollahi, M. M. & Polat, R. The influence of calcium nitrate as antifreeze admixture on the compressive strength of concrete exposed to low temperatures. Cold Reg. Sci. Technol. 89, 30–35 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Li, F. et al. An overview on the effect of pumping on concrete properties. Cem. Concr. Compos. 129, 104501 (2022).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


N.Z. gratefully acknowledges the financial support from the PhD program of the Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development. J.Y. acknowledges the support from China National Key R&D Plan (2019YFC1904000).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



N.Z. contributed to conceptualization, methodology, data curation, modeling, visualization, formal analysis, result interpretation and writing—original draft. G.S. contributed to supervision, result interpretation and writing—review and editing. H.A. contributed to result interpretation and writing—review and editing. Z.C. contributed to result interpretation, supervision and writing—review and editing. B.X. contributed to visualization, resources and result interpretation. Y.S. contributed to writing—review and editing. H.L. contributed to resources, and result interpretation. H.D. contributed to conceptualization, writing—review and editing, supervision and project administration. J.Y. contributed to funding acquisition, writing—review and editing and supervision.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Huabo Duan or Jiakuan Yang.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Peer review

Peer review information

Nature Cities thanks Arto Saari and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor (e.g. a society or other partner) holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Zhang, N., Schiller, G., Azarijafari, H. et al. Contribution of concrete nitrogenation to global NOx uptake. Nat Cities 1, 457–468 (2024).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


Quick links

Nature Briefing Anthropocene

Sign up for the Nature Briefing: Anthropocene newsletter — what matters in anthropocene research, free to your inbox weekly.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing: Anthropocene