MECLA identifies innovation areas required for low embodied concrete

14 December 2021

Interview with Hudson Worley, Chair of MECLA

MECLA – the Materials and Embodied Carbon Leaders’ Alliance – brings together industry, research and government organisations to reduce embodied carbon in the building and construction industry. Funded by the NSW Government and with the support of WWF-Australia, Presync and Climate-KIC Australia, MECLA has established 10 working groups that are dedicated to driving decarbonisation in various parts of industry, addressing specific opportunities and barriers.

SmartCrete CRC, as a member of the working group (WG5b) for cement and concrete, spoke to Hudson Worley, Chair of MECLA, about their objectives and approach to innovation.

SmartCrete CRC is proud to be a member of MECLA (Materials and Embodied Carbon Leaders’ Alliance) a collaboration of government and industry partners across different parts of the construction and building industry supply chain. Born out of a modest grant from the NSW government as part of their Low Embodied Building Materials program and with support from WWF-Australia, MECLA aims to accelerate the uptake of low carbon upfront or embodied carbon aligning to the Paris Agreement and principles of the circular economy.

SmartCrete CRC participates in the working group 5b, which was created to brainstorm opportunities to reduce the embodied carbon in cement and concrete. In order to explore their views and objectives on innovation towards climate change in Australia, we spoke to Hudson Worley, Chair of MECLA.

What are your main objectives and how do you plan to achieve these? 

To accelerate the uptake of low carbon materials in the built environment, currently responsible for 16% of the built environment emissions (which are a quarter of total Australian emissions).  If we don’t act now, this number will blow out to 85% of built environment emissions by 2050 particularly as the electricity grid decarbonises.

As an impact procurement model, MECLA members seek to accelerate the demand for, and supply of, low carbon building and construction materials. Our model is based on collaboration at a pre-competitive level that addresses the systemic barriers to change. “MECLA enables us to have a solid foundation of data, a common direction of travel and a collaborative approach to get there.”

What have been your successes in innovation when it comes to climate change and Australia’s zero carbon goals? How did they come about?

Innovation is often 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. And sometimes it’s all about timing!

And all those factors have come together in the last 18 months. Many ASX companies started reporting against the Taskforce on Climate Related Disclosure (TCFD) and the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi). The SBTi requires companies to focus on their Scopes 1, 2 and 3 emissions. For the built environment and infrastructure sectors Scope 3 emissions are often well more than half of a company’s emissions.

As companies and financial institutions make Net Zero commitments there is a greater drive to reach out to companies’ supply chains and seek materials that are lower in carbon such as ‘green’ steel, concrete and aluminium. MECLA or the Materials and Embodied Carbon Leaders’ Alliance takes a systemic view of the built environment and through its ‘do-tank’ Working Groups is seeking to break down the barriers to the uptake of low embodied carbon materials as well as support more innovative materials to be accepted in the market.

What are the key learnings from the COP26 summit Glasgow? Have you built any plans around these?

There are plenty of learnings from COP26 including the importance of giving hope to those working towards the ambition of “1.5oC is still alive”. It will require many sectors and many people working together. A key message out of COP26 is the importance of collaboration as well as the focus on the hard to abate sectors.

The First Movers Coalition was announced by the US State Department. a new platform for companies to harness their purchasing power and supply chains to create early markets for innovative clean energy technologies that are key for tackling the climate crisis. At the launch of the First Movers Coalition, more than 25 Founding Members—leading companies from a wide range of industries around the world—made commitments to spur the commercialization of emerging technologies in this decade.

The fact that the Australian Government now has a long-term signal towards Net Zero by 2050 means industry and capital can plan longer term investments and catalyse industry opportunities towards the decarbonisation pathways needed.  We don’t know how concrete, and cement will get there yet but we have a better idea and understanding of the pathway to achieving this. Innovation will play a major role.

MECLA is making huge inroads in cement/concrete. What innovation areas have you identified that is applicable to the concrete sector? 

There are three main areas of innovation required to fast track the uptake of low embodied concrete, namely:

  • The policy and regulatory environment including specifications, so tenders are determined on time, cost, quality, and carbon as the fourth element, and rewarded as such.
  • Procurement agencies including government and private clients being confident in asking for low carbon concrete.
  • Supporting low carbon, alternative and innovative materials including support for SCMs as well as carbon capture and usage where there is considerable potential.

We are pre-competitive in our approach so won’t be advocating for one product or company over another.

How do these differ from other areas in construction and building? 

The building and construction industry is a complex ecosystem and there are many players. There are a handful of organisations looking to support the industry with their embodied carbon issues and many are members of MECLA. We are trusted and transparent and through lots of in-kind ‘sweat equity’ MECLA is more than the sum of the parts of our 115 Founding Partners.

Our Unique Value Proposition is the broad church of members, including government, companies and industry associations, and our systems and pre-competitive approach to tackling the issues at hand.

How does this align your plans with SmartCrete CRC goals?

I believe we are fully aligned to find clever solutions to the massive carbon issues facing the concrete and cement industry as the industry delivers on its commitments to Net Zero and science aligned carbon reduction targets.

What’s next for MECLA? What are the future plans? 

Delivery on our commitments and work streams identified by the different Working Groups. A plan of action is to be developed for the next 12 months by the end of March.

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