Port Authority Adopts New Industry-Leading, Sustainable Concrete Standards

In September 2020, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey introduced one of the most ambitious low-carbon concrete programs of its kind among US transportation agencies to dramatically reduce the embodied carbon of concrete mixes that are approved for contractors to use in agency projects.

Today, the agency announced it has achieved a major milestone in that program by significantly strengthening its requirements to use sustainable concrete mixes in all its future construction projects as part of the Port Authority’s commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

The new, more environmentally conscious specifications for concrete mixes resulted from research carried out by academic partners to reduce carbon emissions in the process of creating concrete. For the first time, the Port Authority’s concrete requirements establish maximum allowable carbon limits and now permit the conditional inclusion of ground glass and Portland-limestone cement in concrete mixtures, which further reduce carbon intensity.

With the production of cement accounting for 7-8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the Port Authority has committed to substituting more environmentally friendly but equally durable alternatives for the former higher carbon components in new mixes to be used on future Port Authority construction projects. The viability of these concrete mixes will provide a guide for the multitude of industries that rely heavily on concrete.

In parallel, with the adoption of more environmentally stringent concrete specifications, the Port Authority will launch the final phase of a pilot program to advance research into even more sustainable concrete by testing innovative mixes at its facilities to further reduce the carbon emissions of its capital projects.

“The Port Authority is committed to researching sustainable practices for our infrastructure plans to improve the quality of life for communities we serve,” said Port Authority Chairman Kevin O’Toole. “We are proud to partner with students and faculty at our local universities in initiating change towards a cleaner future.”

“This is a true win-win, achieving better environmental outcomes while maintaining our high standards for concrete performance and safety,” said Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton. “The update of our concrete technical requirements is a major milestone as the agency continues its aggressive efforts to drive down the embodied carbon of concrete and other major building materials.”

“Our success speaks to the value of building strong, interdisciplinary partnerships to tackle our industry’s biggest sustainability challenges,” said Port Authority Chief Engineer Rizwan Baig. “The Port Authority worked with academic researchers, industry partners, and our own accomplished materials engineers to achieve more sustainable results without compromising on safety, performance or cost.”

Since the implementation of the program, the agency has collaborated with academic research institutions such as Rutgers University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Princeton University and New York University to create and test the use of recycled material in concrete mixes. After two years of testing and analysis, the agency identified 18 concrete recipes that can reduce emissions by up to 37 percent over its already low carbon concrete mixes. The Port Authority’s updated concrete requirements now include the substitution of cement with recycled glass and Portland-limestone cement, a cement engineered with a higher limestone content that requires less energy to produce.

The agency will test the performance of a selected number of new mixes by incorporating their use at Port Authority facilities in projects that will not affect safety or operations, with additional tests and analyses routinely performed by the academic institutions that helped to develop them. Additionally, the Port Authority and its academic partners plan to disseminate findings of the pilot program, ensuring that other entities across the country can incorporate this ground-breaking research into their own practices.

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