Two articles in EQ, A concrete path to sustainability and A test of the steel industry’s metal, ask whether cement and steel production can be made environmentally friendlier for future human infrastructure by current human innovation. Given their current poor carbon credentials, can they and their production be cleaned and greened enough to make them viable in a world working towards carbon neutrality?
Steel and cement, two of the most important materials developed by humans, are not going away any time soon, and in fact are here for a long time to come. They also leave a large carbon footprint. World production of cement presently stands at roughly 4 billion tons and accounts for 8% of global carbon emissions. Making a ton of cement emits roughly 0.8 tons of carbon dioxide. The article on cement explores energy-saving and carbon emission reduction efforts in different parts of the world including Cuba, India, U.K. and U.S.A.
The demand for steel is no less, with steel manufacturing consuming 5-6% of all globally generated power and creating 6.7% of carbon dioxide emissions. Cement’s global energy consumption is even higher. Gopal R. Rao, Editor of MRS Bulletin, states, “When comparing the global energy consumption of cement and steel production, cement has nearly double the global energy consumption–roughly 12-15%.” Alternatives to the traditional blast furnace-based production of steel are explored in the EQ article on steel.
Serious efforts to tackle these energy consequences are underway around the world, leading both EQ articles to conclude that humans are equal to the challenge of creating the clean, green steel and cement of the future. As V.S. Arunachalam states in his editorial in this EQ, these iconic materials still offer “the wherewithal for building a prosperous and equitable industrial world.”
This issue of EQ also includes a fascinating interview with Millie Dresselhaus of MIT, also sometimes called the ‘Queen of Carbon Science.’ Dresselhaus has played a major role in research on carbon nanostructures over five decades, and worked on graphene before it became the “hot” topic that it is today. In this interview, she discussess graphene and carbon nanotubes, her two landmark papers on the role of nanostructuring in thermoelectric materials, as well as her views on hydrogen as an energy source.
All three articles are available for free at journals.cambridge.org/EQSept13.