Low-Carbon Building Materials
Research and Development
Federal investment in research and development (R&D) supports economic growth, drives down costs for key technologies that can be used domestically and exported abroad, and promotes U.S. leadership on clean energy and climate. Investment in R&D for building electrification technologies is driven primarily by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), particularly the Building Technologies Office within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). Further R&D comes from the Advanced Manufacturing Office, Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), and DOE’s National Labs. Federal policymakers should increase investment and enact programmatic reforms to ensure DOE focuses on advancing R&D for low-GHG building materials.
Validation and Early Deployment
Data and Disclosure
Measuring embodied carbon emissions requires a standardized, transparent, and reputable source of life cycle assessment (LCA) data. DOE can improve the consistency and quality of LCA data by keeping its national life cycle inventory databases up to date and encouraging LCA data reporting. DOE should update the U.S. Life Cycle Inventory database managed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and include all major materials used in construction.
Before we can deploy promising clean energy technologies at scale, we must demonstrate and validate their cost and performance in real-world conditions. Since demonstration projects reduce the economic and institutional risks of new technologies, DOE should develop a robust portfolio of demonstration projects for low-GHG materials, including production of low-GHG steel and cement.
Absent targeted policies to promote early-stage deployment, producers are often not sufficiently incentivized to develop new technologies and consumers tend to shy away from using them. Tax credits, loan guarantees, and other fiscal incentives targeted at the next generation of low-GHG materials can reduce the green premium and drive private sector demand. Well-designed tax incentives must be technology neutral, predictable, flexible, and prioritize clean technology deployment in low-income and historically disadvantaged communities.
Buy Clean procurement aims to reduce carbon by focusing on incentives and requirements for lower-carbon infrastructure and building materials. This policy approach uses the carbon intensity of materials, or the lifecycle GHG emissions involved in their production or use, as a key criterion for procurement decisions for publicly funded projects. Buy Clean sets allowable carbon-intensity performance thresholds that decrease over time. This encourages the disclosure of environmental-impact data, creates a market for low-GHG materials, and reduces harmful emissions from manufacturing.
Rapid, Large Scale Deployment
Carbon pricing, whether through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, will accelerate the rapid deployment of low-GHG materials. Design elements requiring on-site GHG reductions and reductions in air pollution should be included in any carbon pricing measures to ensure that communities of color and historically disadvantaged communities see direct benefits. Such measures should also include competitiveness protections such as border-adjustment tariffs and carbon price exemptions for exported goods. In the manufacturing sector, carbon pricing can also be coupled with other deployment policies such as a clean product standard.
Clean Product Standard
A clean product standard (CPS) is a technology neutral approach to reducing emissions from the manufacturing of industrial products. This policy follows the model of a clean fuel standard, in which the government sets a target for the GHG intensity of fuels for each refinery and allows flexibility in how to meet that target, including by trading with other refineries. A CPS will facilitate cost-effective, market-based systems that can drive down the average GHG intensity of key building materials like steel or cement.
A CPS offers an alternative or complementary approach to a carbon price to support low-carbon building materials.