“Sustainable” concrete won’t save us #1

By Steve Austin

Ahhhh….another breathless article touting how technology will save us all.  This one is from the Journal of the American Institute of Architecture.  In this case, the miracle cure is concrete that can generate and store electricity.  One product is “Dyscrete, a prefabricated concrete panel coated with organic dye-sensitized solar cells (DYSC). Functioning like the chlorophyll in plants, these dyes generate electricity via electrochemical reactions that occur when illuminated.”

Sounds neat!  See, there is absolutely no need for us to call off our plans for murder-suicide  all other life on this planet. We can just make a substance that acts like plants to give us more power!

But wait there’s more!

“Concrete has also been coaxed to produce electricity from mechanical pressure. British industrial engineer Laurence Kemball-Cook developed a concrete paver called Pavegen that utilizes piezoelectric technology to convert applied mechanical stress from footfalls into an electrical charge. The pavers incorporate recycled tire rubber as the energy-capturing surface, which rests above a recycled polymer concrete base. The electricity produced can be readily utilized for functions like nighttime illumination.

‘Ten slabs around a streetlight would power it all night long from the energy generated during the day,’ Kemball-Cook told Scientific American in a 2011 article. ‘You can get 20 or 30 seconds of light from a small light fitting from one footstep.’ Pavegen pavers are also supplied with footfall sensors that enable the tracking of pedestrian activity for security or consumer behavior purposes, and were recently installed on London’s Bird Street.”

Even neatoer!  Who can be against people power?

Unfortunately, this article doesn’t mention a thing about concrete’s impact on climate change.  CO2 emissions from concrete production may be as much as 10% of global total.  Currently, and maybe permanently, concrete is impossible to make in industrial scale quantities without enormous CO2 emissions. In the below zero era, CO2 emissions must essentially cease, and the drawdown of excess CO2 in the atmosphere must vastly exceed any further CO2 emissions.  That’s not a good prognosis for concrete’s future, even if it produces a little electricity.  If technology is indeed going to save us, it will be through finding ways to build with no C02 emissions AND in ways that sequester CO2.  But that probably sounds too boring – or impossible – for architects.  Better to focus on the “cool” factor, even as the planet burns.

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