Carbon sequestration in cement enhances concrete construction

A concrete wall being hoisted into place.
A concrete wall being hoisted into place.

Like other commercial buildings, most of the efforts of data centre operators, with respect to reducing carbon output, have been centred on less energy-intensive operations—servers and cooling systems with lower power requirements and/or sourcing renewable energy to reduce the carbon intensity of operations.

Given the extensive use of concrete in building data centres, from foundations and sidewalks to precast walls and roofing, carbon capture in concrete represents a huge mitigation opportunity. In its quest to build better buildings, Compass Datacenters set out to conduct due diligence on manufactured concrete using carbon sequestration technology and the impact it could have on Compass facilities.

Carbon sequestration technology potential

International engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti conducted a multi-year study on embodied carbon. In it, Tomasetti recognizes data centres and hospitals and mission critical structures, have the overall highest levels of embodied carbon of any asset category. In consultation with Thornton Tomasetti, Compass discovered the effectiveness of carbon sequestration technology in reducing the carbon footprint of each of its new campuses. Building sizes vary, but estimates showed using carbon sequestration technology has the potential to reduce the CO2 footprint of each Compass campus by around 1800 tons, equivalent to CO2 sequestered by 850 ha (2100 acre) of forest or driving a car for 64 km (4 million mi).

Having quantified the potential of carbon sequestration technology as it relates to Compass Datacenter projects, and with tested confidence in the integrity and application of the tech for Compass’s model, the next step was to revisit Compass’s supply chain to ensure a healthy network of precast providers who could deliver manufactured cement using carbon sequestration technology. With data centres under construction throughout the United States and a growing international presence, Compass needed assurance there would be a sufficient network of suppliers. It turned out the carbon sequestration technology manufacturers had more coverage than any other carbon-friendly products.

Compass sent a request for proposal to each of its existing precast providers with design specifications to gauge their readiness to work with the carbon sequestration technology. Several respondents were engaged, familiar with the product, and eager to support this new, better way to build. Ongoing partnership is important to Compass’s model and value to customers. Compass relies on partners who can support Compass’s strategic advantage with quality and speed-to-market.

Going forward

Canada updates building codes every five years and the next update is due to be published by the end of this year. According to reports, climate change will be a major area of focus in this and future editions. At the same time, local and state governments are beginning to adopt policies that suggest or, in some cases require, new construction to feature carbon sequestration in cement. All signs point to a mounting trend.

To help engineers and construction companies transition into a future with careful carbon measurements and proactive efforts to reduce carbon outputs, Thornton Tomasetti created a free embodied carbon measurement tool. It makes it possible to measure carbon in the design phase and helps identify solutions to combat negative impacts of new construction on the environment. It helps engineers measure embodied carbon in projects and find ways to optimize and reduce carbon output.

Compass is thrilled to begin constructing new centers with manufactured concrete using carbon sequestration technology this year and is continuing to seek out additional opportunities to deliver more carbon-neutral new builds, like using aggregate with captured CO2 in place of natural limestone rock mined from quarries.

The decision to build new centres with carbon capture in the equipment pads and precast structures has been met with rave reviews from customers ever on the lookout for ways to minimize their carbon footprint. It is an exciting new frontier and an opportunity in construction to deliver more environmentally responsible projects and meet goals for the future. The fight to reverse the impacts of industrialization on the environment is on and carbon sequestration technology represents an important opportunity.

Nancy Novak, Compass Datacenters’ chief innovation officer, has over 30 years of construction experience and has overseen the delivery of more than $3.5 billion in projects during that time. Novak is actively involved in a number of organizations dedicated to the advancement of woman in business including Above Glass Ceilings (AGC), Women in Government Relations (WGE), Women Construction Owners and Executives (WCOE), The World Trade Center Initiative, Fortune Media’s Most Powerful Women, and the National Woman’s Party. Novak holds a degree in construction engineering and management from San Diego State University.

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