Microsoft’s Efforts to Reduce Embodied Carbon in Construction Materials

Microsoft is taking steps to become carbon negative by 2030, and one area they are focusing on is reducing embodied carbon in construction materials such as concrete and steel. Embodied carbon refers to the carbon emissions produced during the manufacturing, installation, maintenance, and disposal of a product. Concrete alone is responsible for around 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

To address this issue, Microsoft is exploring alternative materials and processes that can lower the embodied carbon in concrete. One of the solutions they are testing in Quincy, Washington involves using a mixture that includes a limestone derived from microalgae and other additives. These materials lower the carbon emissions associated with concrete production.

The traditional manufacturing processes for concrete and steel are carbon-intensive, making it a challenge to reduce their embodied carbon. However, Microsoft believes that finding alternative materials with lower carbon footprints is essential for achieving their carbon negative goals.

The concrete mixes being piloted in Quincy include variations with biogenic limestone, fly ash, slag, and alkaline soda ash. The goal is to develop mix designs that can lower embodied carbon in concrete by more than 50% compared to traditional mixes.

While these solutions are not perfect, they are a step in the right direction. Microsoft recognizes that waiting for a perfect solution will hinder progress, and it is more important to take action with what is currently available. By investing in early-stage companies and technologies, such as CarbonCure and Prometheus Materials, Microsoft is supporting the development of low carbon concrete and bio-cement.

Looking ahead, Microsoft aims to achieve zero embodied carbon in construction materials and potentially make them carbon negative. Investments in companies like Boston Metal, which is developing green steel solutions, demonstrate their commitment to finding innovative and sustainable alternatives.

By building markets and technologies outside their organization, Microsoft aims to create a competitive market for green building materials. This approach allows them to accelerate their own decarbonization journey and make a significant impact in reducing embodied carbon in the construction industry.