A Pretty Stunning Graph of World Cement Production (and China is Certainly Using It)

Annual production of cement by country in billions of metric tons. Click to expand. Source: USGS 2006 report (PDF) and the USGS 2008 report (PDF).

Cement is mainly used to make concrete, and is sort of the "active ingredient" in concrete - it is combined with sand and gravel in roughly fixed proportions. So cement production can be considered a rough proxy for the total amount of construction going on in a country.

This post updates Stuart's post about this two years ago (and yes, it's still a graph that will blow you away!) with two more years of USGS cement data, 2006 and 2007. The growth in China, from 1 GT to 1.3 GT in two years is mindboggling, even India and Russia are interesting...and there's more to think about under the fold.

edited to add: As a couple of folks pointed out--I have interchanged "production" and "usage" in this post incorrectly--however, China's 2007 cement exports were only 33 million tons out of 1.3 billion tons produced. So, at least for China, production is a good proxy for demand/consumption. My apologies for the mistake.

Also interesting is the percentage of the world's production of cement that China took up in 2007 (50%) compared to 2004 (42.5%); some of this can no doubt be due to preparation for the Olympics, but that surely cannot not be all of that growth can it? Also note that other countries (perhaps the "developing world?") seems to be using less of the total proportion of cement used.

Percentage of yearly worldwide cement usage. Click to expand. Source: USGS 2006 report and the USGS 2008 report.

Some things we learned from the comment thread from Stuart's post a couple of years ago:

Remember, in China, oil isn't used in cement production. In the "clinker" stage, it's all coal. In the blending stage it's electricity (which is generated 80% from coal in China).

And cement production in China is inefficient. There are hundreds of small plants, both wet and dry processes, and the local environmental impact is severe.

Making a pound of cement releases a pound of CO2. And a Gigaton or two?

This also isn't a new phenomenon. This link shows data back to 1999 that illustrated that China has been at this for quite a while, but perhaps not to this extent.

To conclude, here is the percent change of production bar graph from 2005 to 2008. Think about what all that means in terms of energy. Also note the numbers from India, Russia, and the US.

Percentage growth in cement consumption 2005-2008. Click to expand. Source: USGS 2006 report and the USGS 2008 report.

Looks like India has a lot of catching up to do.

I have no definite idea what what they are building in there but I think our western paranoia would lend this jolly dog of a 'tune' of Tom Waites an ear:)

Those are amazing graphs, I think I can smell the smoke from China from here. That decrease in US cement consumption ... right up there with Indonesia?

How much cement is used in the new nuclear reactors being built in China?

edit: code above fixed.

Well, one of things that the graph doesn't tell you is this: they are buying up as much of the high quality clinker (what's produced from the cement kiln prior to it's grinding into the fine powder than you and I think of as cement) and stockpiling it. Although the surface of clinker will react with water, it is a way to store it for a long time. Note; the Chinese are also doing the same with steel. I suspect they know that one day the energy issues will become the real choke point (for production and transport) that when the JIT world comes to a grinding halt, they won't.

Even more fascinating (not in the USGS data) is the incremental cost profit and trading of cement clinker. I'm aware of several cement plants that quarry the raw materials and make the cement clinker which they send, by rail, down to ocean going barge transport to China. Those same companies then import from other countries (notably from the African continent) clinker produced and shipped from overseas. That clinker is then transported back to the cement production facility where it is ground and then sold as cement within it's distribution area (nominally about a 500 mile radius). The Chinese are buying the US production at a slightly higher cost than the clinker imported by the US companies and that goes to an increased profitability.

Neat trick. There can be some tradeoffs, however, to the clinker chemical makeup.

(Note: I teach a 3-5 day course on everything you'd never like to know about cement production).

Teach us, oh wise one. And yes, I am serious.

When you start thinking about the implications of this stuff...oooof...so I wanna learn. Bring it.

(Note: I teach a 3-5 day course on everything you'd never like to know about cement production).

Great, where do I sign up? It's why I read this site, it is just chocka-block full of all the things I just don't want to know about:)

Hey Starship not only do you have me reading 'things I don't want to read about' but also looking for more! How are you on types of cement? Two reasons, first I found this quote below in Wikipedia and noticed the mention of "low-energy" cements would you elucidate?

Calcium sulfoaluminate cements are made from clinkers that include ye’elimite (Ca4(AlO2)6SO4 or C4A3\bar \mathrm{S} in Cement chemist’s notation) as a primary phase. They are used in expansive cements, in ultra-high early strength cements, and in "low-energy" *cements.

Second reason is that years ago I used a black cement in a bit of sculpture, I was told at the time that it wasn't Portland and no colourants were added. I have no idea what it was but it was great stuff, does this poor description ring any bell? Have asked at various local cement purveyors to be only met with a concrete and stony silence.

*my bold

Hey CrystalRadio- your "black cement" is actually fly ash concrete, an inexpensive alternative to Portland. It is easily manipulated when wet, but requires little water- great for sculpture, it is also environmentally friendly because it is recycled from the remnants of coal production. Gives a smooth finish, but sharp detail.

Yes please, if you have the material prepared I would really appreciate a post.

Cement is a key example to use in explaining how it can all go wrong. Clinker production and distribution requires a lot of fossil fuel input, and causes 5-7% of AGW gases worldwide. The transition to solar/nuclear/wind and buildout of New Urbanism will require unprecedented amounts of concrete. Obviously, some foresight and resource allocation is required!

Building with (steel-reinforced) concrete is one of the most silly things, mankind ever invented. If you have insight into the static of concrete constructions, e.g.

  • the complex problems that are created simply by neglecting natures laws and to replace them with technological vanity by complicating structures needlesly,
  • the contradictory solutions to otherwise relatively simple static rules, beforehand the very dangerous phenomenon of punching of columns and walls, which does not exist in traditional constructions (arches and vaults),
  • the dangers of misunderstanding the sometimes very difficult task of resolving the equilibrium of forces in each part of the structure (which exist also elsewhere, but is much much much more pronounced in concrete),
  • the fact, that concrete does not hold together, even without external forces, but has to be bound together by steel reinforcement,
  • that concrete has to break before it works,
  • that water will enter these cracks an the steel will rust, that concrete, therefore, is not durable, but has to be replaced every 50 years,
  • that concrete weights 2,5 metric tonnes per m3 (a ceiling of 20cm is 5,0 kN/m2!!! (=500kg/m2) This is incredible, even the highest density for ramped earth is not more than 2,2 to/m3)
  • that concrete structures are, therefore, very heavy, and everything, that wears them, has to be also very heavy and overdimensioned
  • that this is completely needles, because mankind knows better alternatives since we began to exit Africa some million years ago!!

and if you consider further

  • the fact, that concrete is much too dense to allow respiration of the structure, that it is very unhealthy to live in concrete houses, that it ruins your conjunctive tissues and empoisons
    you with all kinds of spores of fungus that grow in airtight environment,
  • that the high density makes concrete a very good conductor and leads to - hurray to the industry - a special layer of insulation,
  • that the calcareaous nature of cement in concrete reacts with the moister of human skin (and others, too) and that, therefore, working with concrete is a torture,
  • that the steel in the structure compromises the electric impulses, living beings work with and that it is, therefore, recommended to build barns for cattle without reinforced ceilings (for the cattle!!!) because they otherwise give less milk or meat or whatever,
  • cement production is some 8-10% (dont nail me on this, but it is something about this numbers) of worldwide CO2-production,
  • that finally concrete was, is, and will always be, just UGLY

, if you take all this and you think about the fact that the worlds biggest concrete manufacturer, the swiss Holcim group, which is responsible for the devastation of vast natural mountains and ecosystems, the polution of air and water, won for the third time in a row the title "Leader of the Industry" of Dow Jones Sustainable Index, that civil engineers don't even learn of alternatives in the university, just concrete, steel and wood, if they have luck (but wood is already a scarce ressource and no alternative, once the energy lacks), and not even hear about the fantastic possibilities of mud and adobe,

and if you take all the other reasons and examples, than you can only hope that Peak Oil is also Peak Concrete!

P.S. I decided to write a book it, because no one knows about all this, everone takes concrete for granted and "natural". This is a very important peak-oil-issue!

Yours Snomm

Concrete is WAY too energy intensive of a product for most applications. However, there are too many fallacies in this comment to ignore.
1. needlessly complicated structures exist in steel and wood form, too
2. point is unclear, but again, how is this specific to concrete?
3. same comments as 2.
4. concrete does hold together. It functions much better as a compressive material, though, which is why when there are tensile (or high shear) stresses, steel is added. There are a lot of unreinforced concrete structures. I've heard comments from a concrete guru that reinforcing any slab on grade is ludicrous.
5. concrete doesn't have to break before it works. Not sure where you're interpretation comes from, but it's off base. Reinforced concrete structures are designed for ductile failure as a safety precaution for users. This means that the concrete is expected to crack at points of high tensile stress. Engaging the steel will result in obvious indicators should the structure begin to fail. Without this, the structure would fail in a brittle fashion, which means that once the breaking point was reached, the whole thing would come crashing down on anybody who happened to be under it.
6. all structural materials in their virgin state will decompose when subjected to the elements. And it's salt transported by water that rusts the steel, not the water itself. This is one of the reasons that structures have building envelopes; to protect the materials holding up the building.
7. Uhh huh, and...
8. .. this is why concrete is mostly appropriate for large loads and long spans. Try building a multi-story building out of rammed earth.
9. wait, what?

10. Okay, woah, this has to do with building design and is again entirely independent of the structural material.
11. concrete a conductor? listen, one of the advantages of concrete is that it absorbs heat during the day and relases it slowly during the night. same as adobe.
12. agreed, unless, hold on, wait for it, you wear gloves and a mask. -gasp-! oh the horrors!! Forget abhu graib, let's go after concrete construction sites!!! Seriously, don't trivialize the word torture.
13. Call the selkirk hospital, one got loose
14. agreed
15. not even close, brother. Take a look at http://www.canadianarchitect.com/issues/ISarticle.asp?id=143336&story_id...
or do a search for fabric formed concrete.

Let's not forget that concrete has made it possible for dense urban life. Without concrete and modern steel, we'd still be limited to buildings of a handful of stories in height.

Above ground concrete exposed to the elements may be more susceptible to spalling. This is due to rapid changes in temperature such as between night and day. The expansion and contraction of the material will cause cracking and chipping. Water gets down into the cracks and rusts the rebar or freezes and thaws creating enlarging cracks. Spalling can tear down a granite mountain face over eons of time, or a city high rise balcony exposed to the weather within 50 years.

12. umm.... Having worked on several concrete jobs, it only effects some people. I can bathe in wet cement and not be in the least distressed by it. Others need gloves.

Concrete has been used for a very long time, and when properly designed, lasts many centuries. The Pantheon is an example. The most commonly used type is Portland cement, invented in 1829. Some of the first PC structures are still in use. Many alternatives have been tried before and since. Some are better, but require more skill, quality control, and energy to make. And to borrow Matt Simmons' line, it costs 8 cents per pound. What else can you buy for that?

For a few thousand years, mankind built mostly with stone and earth, and lyme and wood. Then, with the beginning of the fossil fuel age, some smart guy figured that if he crushed the stone, burned it in an oil or coal oven with a few more components, and packed it, he could sell it for a much higher price as a sort of "fast stone", once mixed with sand and water. Not just a binder like lyme mortar, but something that could be shaped and stand for itself. And marvel people at it's tensile strenght, once reinforced with steel. Never mind that stone itself would last and be useful for thousands of years, and "fast stone" only for around fifty.
Cheap fuels, both for fabrication and transport, enabled the thing to spread and indeed form the basic material of the infrastructure of industrial society, in a widespread manner since WWII. Every wonder of the modern(ist) world, from high rises to suburbia, autobahns to war bunkers, Corbusier to Zaha Hadid, would not exhist without concrete. It is present in a most obvious form in Brutalist architecture, but without it as foundations even steel and glass high rises or humble mac mansions would not exhist as they do. Concrete can even claim direct responsability in hundred's of thousands of deaths in earthquakes around the world in recent decades, as you could verify recently in China. People were crushed under piles of concrete plaques from buildings past their (short lived) safety age, or built without any respect for the laws of tectonics and safety, something that concrete enables like no other building technique.
Both materially and symbolically, concrete embodies the futility and aimlessness of industrial civilization. Short lived but lucrative for industry, archtecturally amorphous but able to be shaped to the whims of one high priest of modernism after another, concrete stands as a more visible proof of the futility of the oil, or fossil fuel, age, than extensive motoring or aviation, and yet it has been "taken for granted and natural", as Snomm remarks in his excellent post above. As it's dawn aproaches, together with Peak Oil and the Age of Incredibly Stupid Use of Resources, we will be left with a mass of decaying structures around the planet, uninhabitable by societies that can no longer occupy the land like they did in the times of oil utopia.

Our construction habbits show very good, how things went wrong the last 200 years.

Its not just the concrete material, but also, how our buildings are organized. Umgrego2 campaigns for concrete and steel, because otherwise "we'd still be limited to buildings of a handful of stories in height". First, he hasn't maybe ever heard of Shibam, the yemen town with 16 stories high earth buildings, that last since ~1500 years (your Manhattan was a virgin forest, when these buildings were constructed), second, he has maybe never heard of studies, that found out that people feel uncomfortable when they get beyond two stories. Third, and here I come to my point, he has maybe never imagined the enormeous efforts that are required to pump water in the 30th story (the energy).

Modern houses and homes are not only buildings that stand for themselves. They are part of a machinery that comprises powerhouses, clarification plants, water pumping facilities, district heating systems and, dependend on the complexity of the structure, maybe a lot more. And all this machinery is run with fossil fuels.

And, Umgrego2, concrete has to crack, to work, I am pretty shure and I don't know your guru, but I never put concrete in place without steel reinforcement, because, (1) compression alone does not exist, it comes always along with transversal tension (I hope this word is right, it means that you have always tension perpendicular to the compression direction). And (2) concrete destroys itself because of shrinkage if it is not helped by steel to stay together. Concrete is NOT a stone or fast stone or how you call it. This thinking is widespread, but wrong!! Think of it rather as a cake, you take the dough, pour it in a form and bake it. After you retreat it of the four, it falls (a little bit) together. The same is true for concrete. After it has reacted with water, it falls together, it shrinks. The reinforcement necessary to prevent this shrinkage is often the most important, much more important than the one you need to take external forces.

Concrete constructions are in truth steel constructions, were a little bit of steel is economized by replacing it with concrete. This is the truth. I have never seen old stone cathedrals, where the stone had to be helped with steel to fall apart...

And, Umgrego2, I know, my english is not as good as yours, but I don't understand comments like Uhh Ahh (maybe this is american slang?), you should be more specific ;-)

AntiPortland, if you read french I have a very good article where they compare the seismic behavior of concrete and adobe constructions. Its in the internet, I will post it than because I have to leave now - the concrete is waiting...


Snomm, I do read french, email me at albertocastro.nunes@gmail.com, maybe we can also share a few ideas about concrete et al

Indeed, and to think that of all the people in the world the Chinese had both the technology, the knowledge and a wonderful natural resource to do do things differently. I am sure their house of cards, er cement, will collapse and come tumbling down. After all their exponential growth is just as unsustainable as anyone one else's.


"Grow Your Own House": Bamboo as a Construction Material

Bamboo (Vegetable Steel)
We need radical new ideas for housing. For example, one of the best structural materials available
in abundance is bamboo. It has a matrix of ligno-cellulose, which provides better tensile and
compression strength than iron. There are many bamboo species, growing around the world.
Bamboos, such as Guadua Angustifolia, have been used extensively as construction material in
poverty-stricken regions.

Man, some of you should do some learning before all the babbling. Concrete construction is a Roman (Empire, eg. 2000+ yrs ago) invention and it's development had nothing at all to do with fossil petroleum (<200 yrs). Concrete structure is a relatively energy efficient way to build multi-floor structures compared to steel, and I'd thought we mostly agreed that the sprawl of low-density housing which requires increased transportation was less acceptable than high-density dwelling systems? If bamboo is so great for structures, why do most asian constructions build all their scafoldings on construction sites with it, pour the concrete, then tear down the bamboo scaffoldings? Perhaps they've learned one or two things you've overlooked?

lengould said: "Man, some of you should do some learning before all the babbling."

I have to clarify something here, maybe you did not read exactly our postings:

There is a big difference between concrete and steel reinforced concrete. The Romans built with concrete, the most popular structure is the Pantheon. Why does it still stand? I wrote that (reinforced!) concrete has to crack to work and that shrinkage will destroy it. Have I forgotten my words and do I make propaganda for love and sex and mud?

The truth is, the Pantheon is a cupola-construction made of concrete, not steel-reinforced concrete. All forces in a cupola are compression forces. It can shrink as much as it wants, there is always compression. This structure is VERY different from so-called modern steel-reinforced structures, which are, as I wrote above, steel structures in their heart. And steel-reinforced concrete has A LOT to do with fossil fuels, I would say, its all about that!!

Steel-reinforced concrete exists since... no, not 2000 years, but since 1861, when good old Joseph Monier put some steel-bars in its flower boxes of concrete, and you know, why he did this? I bet that each time, he watered his flowers, all the liquids inside came running out of the box, because concrete shrinks and cracks and these cracks go from one end to the other.

Why do the chinese don't build any longer with bamboo? Have they learned one or two things that I overlooked? You know, what happened in Germany, when cheap fossil fuels became available and burned bricks got cheap? Before they built their homes with adobe and earth, than they saw these nice bricks and certainly also the advertisement, and they cut the roof, and the highest story and rebuilt it with brick. And you know what happened? The structure beneath deformed (it didn't rupture, it was not concrete, but natural products) and became inhabitable.

People sometimes don't want the best, but the most "modern", the most "in", the latest i-pod, or phone. I have nothing overlooked, I am in this since years... sorry, but I am not babbling


If bamboo is so great for structures, why do most asian constructions build all their scafoldings on construction sites with it, pour the concrete, then tear down the bamboo scaffoldings? Perhaps they've learned one or two things you've overlooked?

Your logic is a bit weak there grasshopper. If bamboo wasn't so great for structures (or are you saying scaffolding isn't a structure), maybe it wouldn't be used for that purpose. Do go and do some learning yourself, you could start by reading the link I supplied. See what the German civil engineers had to say about about the ZERI Pavillion designed by architect Simon Velez, maybe you think he should do some learning before he starts to babble,right?

Anyways SNOMM has already given a polite and cogent reply as to one possible reason the Chinese, and others may prefer the use of steel reinforced concrete and glass towers over more natural and less energy intensive options such as bamboo. Maybe it's the same reason some people prefer to defend their use of SUVs over bicycles. Yes, the owners of the SUVs may have learned a thing or two over the proponents of bicycle use, but then again they may still have a few things to learn, like sustainability and being integrated with their local ecosystems. So yes, learning and thinking outside those concrete and steel boxes is a good thing. Too bad you don't seem to able to do it yourself.

Ride a Bike or Take a Hike.

I'm not 'campaigning for concrete and steel'. I think they're appropriate for certain scenarios. For example, supporting urban density. No, I hadn't hear of Shibam. Sounds like a nice place to visit. Not sure where your '16 stories high' fact comes from. Wikipedia lists the tallest structure as being 11 stories. And although the city is 2000 years old, the buildings are "from the 16th century ..." and "... have been rebuilt over and over again during the last few centuries." Manhattan is not mine. It was, however, started in the 17th C., so I guess Shibam wins by one century, but I'm not sure what the contest is.

Also, it appears that the buildings in Shibam are timber structures with earth envelopes. The buildings are not supported by the earthen portion of the building.

No, I haven't heard of "studies, that found out that people feel uncomfortable when they get beyond two stories". Where are they?

Yes, I am aware that water needs to be pumped up to the top of a building. And, people need to be hoisted. I think there are more efficient ways of tackling these issues than those that are currently employed, but the current use of pumps doesn't support the idea that concrete is a poor building material.

The machinery in the "powerhouses, clarification plants, water pumping facilities, district heating systems" are powered by whatever the local source is. Where I live, it's electricity generated by a dam. For others it's nuclear, or coal, or solar, or wind ....

Back to the cracks. I orginally thought you understood structures enough to be commenting on cracks from loading in tensile zones. Now I understand that you're referring to shrinkage cracks. Shrinkage cracks can be managed through the curing process, additives, or tensile elements, like steel bars, steel mesh, or fibers. The fibers can be anything from steel, polymers, or even straw. But concrete does not 'have to crack to work'. If you manage shrinkage cracks, the concrete still has the same strength. If you don't manage shrinkage cracks, it will still have the same strength.

There are indeed structural elements that only see compression stresses. That's how masonry structures are built.

Concrete does not destroy itself because of shrinkage. What gave you that idea?

Good analogy on pointing out the difference between a masonry unit and concrete. Essentially, though, concrete is very similar to masonry with mortar at the joints. Concrete just has smaller units (the aggregate), which are allowed to arrange in a random pattern instead of being individually placed.

Concrete construction and steel construction are completely different. Concrete is a brittle substance that is most efficient at carrying compressive loads. Steel is elastic (to a certain point) and is more efficient at carrying tensile loads. The marriage of the two was an exercise in material consrvation. For example, a suspended floor built entirely of concrete would have a limited span. If a floor is built strictly of steel, it is very difficult to control vibrations and make the space comfortable for the user.

I didn't asy Uhh Ahh, I said Uhh Huh, which means that I agree. As I stated at the beginning of my previous post, I think that cement production wastes too much energy. This is why I don't think that concrete is appropriate in all applications. Certain soil conditions certainly require concrete foundations. And it is more efficient to build towers using a combination of concrete and steel.


There are two types of cracks: (1) From shrinking and (2) from external forces. Theoretically you could dimension e.g. a simple beam without (2)-cracks, because concrete can take small tensile stresses (2-3 N/mm2), but then the steel inside is not activated and you spend too much money for the concrete. This is why I write that (reinforced) concrete has to crack to work. Cracks from shrinkage come always when the concrete, once hardened, can not deform. If it can deform, you don't have cracks from shrinkage. But in constructions, there are always a million places, where the concrete cannot deform. This is why there are always cracks.

Your example of Shibam, who rebuild their city regularely, let me think about one important point that I forgot: Reinforced concrete structures cannot be repaired! Look once at the mess that produces, when a rc-structure is demolished. Never you can exchange parts. When the steel is gone, the only thing you can do is to glue FRP-strips outside of the part. Your guess how long that lasts...?


So, let me get this right...

We sell this stuff to China, and then buy it from Africa...?

OK, and another (perhaps not so) dumb question to follow: Why wouldn't China just buy from Africa? I mean, if clinker is cheaper from Africa than the US (to the point that cement companies make more money by importing it from Africa than making it locally), why not scoop all that supply up first *before* buying from the US?

I guess I don't see the logic in what the Chinese are doing...


Because they like the quality of our clinker compared to the African clinker (another reason which I didn't elaborate on is that of cement type, which is combination of chemical make up and burn temperature). Most cement is "Type I." Type II has a slightly different chemical makeup and is "burned" at a much higher temperature (harder on the kiln refractory, particularly at the end of a production campaign when the kiln will be rebricked).

A good basic site for info is:

You bring up an interesting point. I've been talking about hoarding (leaving it in the ground) in regard to oil itself for a while now. But hoarding (stockpiling, whatever you want call it) is bound to start occurring in all things strategic connected to or dependent on energy. This can cause things to develop much more quickly than one would otherwise project.

And yes, PG is right. Maybe an article on cement and concrete and its energy and environmental consequences?

Since you know all (or close to it compared to the rest of us):

How much of the increases in coal and nuclear power plant production costs is due to higher cement cost?

As energy becomes more expensive can we partially compensate by creating cement that lasts longer with a smaller increase in energy needed to make the cement than the amount of cement and energy saved later when the cement lasts longer?

Do you see mineral limitations coming into play to limit cement production? If so, when?

Well, any increase in cost in materials will ultimately be reflected in the final cost of construction. Steel prices have soared over the past few years and are as much of a contributor to increased cost as anything else.

The minimum energy requirement per ton (or Mg) of clinker is the amount required to dry the materials, calcine the carbonate to oxide (CaCO3 to CaO) and the amount to raise the temperature of the calcined mixture to the reaction temperature of the mixure of calcium, silica, alumina, and iron (that reaction is exothermic). Beyond that, it's the type of cement process and to some extent the type of cement that dictates the overall energy requirement. The most energy efficient is the precalciner/short kiln and the least is wet kiln.

But as I think I pointed out in a previous post, the choice between wet and dry is usually the largest energy difference. But that choice is governed by conditions of the raw materials and to some extent the chemistry.

The only raw material limitation I see on the horizon is the energy source (gas or coal). Limestone probably isn't a problem (though the contamination with MgCO3 and other single valence alkalies must also be limited), and sand, clay (sources of alumina and silica) and iron oxide won't be problems.

It's not necessarily a simple issue balancing these cross-cutting interests. There is a facility that I've evaluated that has relatively high energy requirements because it's a wet-process kiln and it has a relatively high alkali content (potassium) feed material but it provides not only cement but, because of it's design, potash as an agricultural supplement.

Hi ST!
Does the use of Fly ash offer the possibility of greatly reducing the energy input to concrete?

No, not really. Flyashes with high calcium content will be precalcined by the combustion process (i.e., the it exists as CaO in the ash) and they can be added to the feed material to augment the calcium requirement. We have seen this practice for years with some coal ashes, most from the subbituminous coal combustion from the Western US.

The biggest energy variable is the process itself.

How much cement is used in the new nuclear reactors being built in China?

Not very much. A typical 1GW nuclear power plant uses 300,000 cubic meters of concrete. at 1.5 tonnes per cubic meter and 15% of concrete being cement thats nearly 70000 tons for a nuclear power plant.

When China is consuming over a billion tons a year of cement, I think nuclear powerplants are exhonerated from being copious consumers of cement.

To put the numbers in perspective: by 2030 China plans to install 120-160GW of nuclear capacity.
70,000 tones times 160 equals to 11.2mln.tonnes. In other words the whole nuclear program by 2030 will consume under 1% of the cement China produces for just one year.

We could repower the whole world to 100% nuclear energy with 60% of the cement China produces for just one year. The people who claim this is impossible because "we won't be able to make the concrete, steel, snacks for the workers etc.etc." must be smoking something really strong.

I'm thinking the 3 Gorges Dam probably used a large percentage of this concrete.


For years asphalt was cheaper than concrete for roads and pavement. If concrete can be created with coal in lieu of oil...anyone know why the construction industry hasn't switched to concrete yet? Are the energy inputs that much higher for concrete?

Concrete is out of favor for roads in places where there are temperature extremes. It buckles due to thermal expansion and contraction. Freeze-thaw cycles also cause problems with concrete.

Asphalt pavements (AKA "flexible pavements") hold up much better. Concrete may still be preferred in warm and/or dry areas. I hear a lot of roads in the Middle East are concrete.

Much preferred here in Florida. Lasts longer, lower heat gain, thinner section, not damaged as much by high groundwater tables, flatter slopes, et al.

However after reflection, several of these advantages are unique to Florida and the Gulf Coast and similar areas (flat, hot and high water tables)

Although still, most roads here are asphalt.

asphalt is smoother, but doesnt hold up as well under heavy loads. deep ruts are the result of heavy truck traffic.

in areas where freeze/thaw is frequent, concrete tends to buckle and fail(at the joints). joints are cut in new pavement to prevent uncontrolled cracking. high freeze thaw frequency is more of a factor in midrange latitudes. salt doesnt help either.

concrete was at one time mixed with straight portland cement. federal highway projects, which includes just about all highways, are required to use fly ash(during summer months). slag aka ggbfs (ground granulated blast furnace slag) is also used. these additives can improve the quality of concrete, but require greater quality control. unfortunately, the quality control part is sometimes missing.

Have you seen the new "perpetual pavements"? They are asphalt, but designed to last a lot longer than garden-variety pavement. I hear they're popular in Europe, where they are more willing sacrifice short-term inconvenience for long-term benefit. Lots of quality control and such, but the most noticeable thing is that they're deep. Like, five or six feet worth of pavement.

no, i havent heard about the perpetual pavements.
and yes, the reason asphalt gets ruts from heavy trucks is because it is relatively thin and flexible.

we usually start patching concrete pavements within a few years, planned obsolescence, imo.

I think part of the problem is that there's a lot more traffic than the engineers who designed the interstate system ever imagined. One, women went to work, which had the effect of doubling traffic in a fairly short time. And two, they never imagined truck traffic would grow as it has (in both number and size of trucks).

And now that we are dependent on our roads, it's become much harder to rebuild them right. People get irate if roads are closed too long, so the emphasis has been on quick-setting asphalt (so they can open the lane to traffic within a few hours). Five feet of pavement not only takes a long time to build, it's pretty hard to keep traffic moving nearby, because a hole that deep is a major traffic hazard.

Another problem I've noticed is the breakdown of local roads. The interstates are built to take the heavy truck traffic. The local roads are not and sooner or later those heavy trucks have to leave the interstates and travel the local roads to deliver their cargo.

That is very much a problem. Adding to it is the eBay effect. Products are now going door to door, instead of along major shipping routes to major retail outlets. That means big trucks traveling residential streets that were never designed to take that kind of traffic.

One great advantage of increasing energy costs forcing haulage from road to rail will be that damage to roads will be greatly reduced:

One 80,000 pound tractor-trailer truck does as much damage to roads and bridges as 9,600 cars. Additionally, the cost of large truck crashes exceeds $41 billion per year.

New national poll shows Americans dislike larger, heavier trucks on U.S. highways. « Project151.org

The haulage industry has been very successful in externalising its costs, on the fallacious grounds that charging lorries for the damage they cause would increase the cost of living.
In reality the costs remain the same, but they are presently miss allocated.

Concrete was (and might still be) the road material used on I-95 in Northern Maine. Gets pretty cold up there I hear; but the drive was very smooth.

Yes, how do you think we know rigid pavements don't hold up well in cold areas? We tried it. A lot of interstates are concrete, even in the northeast. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Many of those are being replaced with flexible pavements. They even have special machines that basically pulverize the concrete in place, turning it into bedding for the new asphalt pavement.

They may also pave over concrete pavements with layers of asphalt, to smooth out rough joints.

Oddly, another problem is that concrete can get too smooth, due to traffic. It's called "polishing." It makes the road too slippery when it rains. So sometimes they'll actually roughen the surface, so tires have more grip.

Perhaps where areas have lots of freeze/thaw cycles concrete is a really bad idea. I remember the PA Turnpike when it was concrete. Ka-thunk, ka-thunk, ka-thunk, for 300+ miles. Ugh. Then there were the occasional REALLY BAD expansion joints. I think my poor little VW Rabbit spent more time in the air than on the ground.

There isn't a road pavement made today that can survive periodic freeze/thaw cycles.
Asphalt is best, which is what we have here in Finland. And we have lots of freeze/thaw cycles.

I guess it's back to sand covered roads after asphalt becomes prohibitively expensive though.

However, one thing that was not anticipated years ago was the effect of road salt on concrete. Road bed preparation regardless of type. I'm old eneough to remember when it was only sand that was used (or in PA, boiler bottom ash) rather than "salt." We also didn't demand ice and snow-free pavement so that people could drive 95 miles per hour on I-95 with the roads and bridges merely "wet."

I looked at this the other day using 2008 cost estimates, and while the numbers are getting much closer, asphalt is still cheaper than concrete.

However, I assume that was with oil at 90-100$ a barrel as it was the first of this year.

I'm sure, even with energy in general getting more expensive (and therefore the price of cement production and transport going up as well), there is a price parity point. But considering the advantages of concrete over asphalt, I'm not sure why cement manufacturers would allow that to happen. They could always sell at a premium over what asphalt costs.

They could always sell at a premium over what asphalt costs

I live in Phx and when I look around practically all pavement is asphalt except sidewalks, house driveways and some sections of freeway.

You would think that if possible, cement manufacturers would make concrete cheaper than asphalt since their orders would absolutely explode. Unless, as Leann points out, there is some higher engineering costs associated with laying the concrete so it won't buckle that I am missing.

we are hearing so much lately about heavy crude oil, it would seem that the price of asphalt would be on the verge of moderating.

declining demand would lead to moderation too.
o' lord lead us not into temptation and deliver us into moderation.

You also have to consider the price and supply of rebar. Concrete has excellent compressive strength but low tensile strength, so rebar is nearly always used in construction. Last year, rebar prices soared in the US, but moderated towards the end of the year as the construction industry slowed down. I don't know what it has done in 2008.

According to an article on inflation in this week's ENR, the price of rebar has gone up from about $600 to $850 per ton so far this year (2008).

It was $300 in 2003.

In fact, all the strength test (3-day, 10-day ,30 day) are all compressive strength tests. This effect was more than adequately demonstrated on October 17, 1989 when the Loma Prieta temblor caused the Nimitz freeway to coolapse in Oakland, CA.

The support piers for the upper deck of the freeway used a "standard" rebar inside the concrete columns. The flexing under the side to side action caused the concrete to spall, and shatter out from the rebar and the rebar was of insifficent strength to supprt the bridge spans. This caused the legs to "kick out" and had the upper deck section fall to the lower level (about 600 tons if memory serves correctly).

Unfortunately, I was there in SanFrancisco when it happened (brought a whole new definition to "rock and roll"). Fortunately, I wasn't on the Nimitz freeway in Oakland (though I had been running back and forth on that highway the year before between the hotel and law offices I was working in).

It is well to keep in mind that not only is cement production highly energy-intensive, it is also a significant source of CO2 emissions.

Portland cement (the most common type) is typically about 60% lime (CaO). As the lime is derived from the thermal decompositon of limestone (CaCO3 -> CaO + CO2), roughly 0.45 tons of CO2 are released for every ton of cement produced (44/56x0.60). And that does NOT even include the CO2 emissions from the fossil fuel usage.

As far as energy conservation is concerned, there is a lot of room for improvement in the less developed sectors of the cement industry, particularly in places like China and India. If I understand correctly, some kilns already recover waste heat to run boilers for on-site power generation.

I was just about to point that out. From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portland_cement#Environmental_effects):

Source 1 is fairly constant: minimum around 0.47 kg CO2 per kg of cement, maximum 0.54, typical value around 0.50 world-wide. Source 2 varies with plant efficiency: efficient precalciner plant 0.24 kg CO2 per kg cement, low-efficiency wet process as high as 0.65, typical modern practices (e.g UK) averaging around 0.30. Source 3 is almost insignificant at 0.002-0.005. So typical total CO2 is around 0.80 kg CO2 per kg finished cement. This leaves aside the CO2 associated with electric power consumption, since this varies according to the local generation type and efficiency. Typical electrical energy consumption is of the order of 90-150 kWh per tonne cement, equivalent to 0.09-0.15 kg CO2 per kg finished cement if the electricity is coal-generated.

How much of that 0.47 kg CO2 per kg cement gets re-taken up when the cocrete is poured and sets?


See "hydration of Portland cement" here.

Just a reminder, thanks in advance for clicking the "SHARE THIS" buttons (which are available on all our posts) and vote for our work on various sites like reddit and digg. Those link farms help us get a lot more eyes, which means more ad revenue to support the site--it's worth ten seconds to do it, I hope.

If 100 of the 25000 or so of you who come through today do this, I guarantee we get at least another 5000 hits out of it. New eyes! Is that so much to ask for?




Give it a try, it's easy. And it's not a waste of your time.

In the United States typical single family homes were of timber frame construction. In the Middle East the houses were built of concrete walls, floors, and roofs.

What is more astonishing to me is that even in per capita usage China beats just about everyone else by several factors (China ~1ton/capita; US ~0.3 t/c, Russia ~0.5 t/c). There must be an amazing construction activity going on there.

I almost made that chart too (and perhaps it is the better one), but I ran out of time...you're absolutely right.

Worse, think about poor India at ~0.1 t/c...and if they ever "turn it on..." Wow, wow, wow.

Three Gorges Dam: 34 million cubic yards of concrete (eight times more than Hoover Dam)

Twenty-six 700-megawatt (MW) generators to produce 18,200 MW (nearly 85 billion kilowatt hours) of total generating capacity, which is one-eighth of China's total energy requirements. Seems like a good use of material.

For comparison, Grand Coulee dam is the largest in the US by concrete volume and hydropower generation: 12 million cubic yards of concrete (~1/3 of Three Gorges) and 6.8 GW generation (>1/3 Three Gorges). See fact sheet (.pdf). Coulee and Three Gorges are more comparable, as they're both gravity-mass type dams (mass of concrete holds back water) whereas Hoover is a thick-arch/gravity-mass hybrid type dam where some of the ability to hold back the water is by the arch shape transferring force to the walls of the canyon. Also worth noting that, at least per US Bureau of Reclamation, the primary mission (e.g. value) of both Hoover and Grand Coulee is as part of a flood control/irrigation scheme, and electricity generation is secondary (though very important). I don't know how the value of flood control/irrigation compares to the generation capacity of Three Gorges.

Actually I saw a show about the 3 gorges dam. Flood control was the major influencing factor behind the dam. China has suffered from some massive and very expensive floods from the Yantse, the payback period for the dam is quite short considering the costs of flood damage. IIRC the dam was a $30Bn project, the last time the river flooded (1998) it caused several billions in damage. It flooded in the 1950's before then. So it almost pays for itself the first few floods you prevent.

I wonder how many upstream low lying villages were relocated to new developments - mostly ugly concrete boxes.

I bet they used a significant proportion of 3 Gorges cement in the relocation programs and new housing as they did in the dam itself.

China's electricity system is growing very fast. In 2007, it reached 722 GW in capacity. That makes the 3 Gorges Dam only 2% of China's total generating capacity, not one-eighth.

I believe you Sparaxis, but do you have any links for that? That's amazing. I always had them in the 400-500 GW area. Yeeikes.

The State Electricity Regulatory Commission provided their initial estimate in January this year at 713 GW (http://www.serc.gov.cn/xyxx/dljs/200802/t20080220_4962.htm, Chinese only) (It's the 7.13 figure in the first line: in Chinese 713 million kilowatts is written as 7.13 100-million kilowatts). I got the 722 GW from NDRC in a later communication.

An English report in the IHT in 2007 projected 720 GW by year's end (http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/04/03/bloomberg/sxnuke.php)

We have traveled through China several times. One of the things that impressed us was the incredible construction boom in all of the major cities. Tall business towers and tall apartment buildings nearby. All of this construction uses vast amounts of concrete as do the many dams under construction and most main roads. On a map of China useful for casual travel, most towns have over a million population.

I got invited by a member of the Beijing hikers club to go on a club hike north of Beijing. The hike went through low mountains and we came upon a very isolated rural village. To my amazement a concrete road led up to the village and was a layer of concrete at least 10 inches thick. It was below freezing at the time with a dusting of snow. Perhaps a party member had a summer home there, if so it would have been very primitive as it was a true farm community.

Where I live in Europe concrete is very expensive. In China (and North Vietnam) we see it being used everywhere. In off the road villages in the vicinity of Hanoi, little shops had large concrete approaches. Yet re-passing through the same villages at night they were mostly without electricity and using candles. Interesting contrast, no?

I've also been to Beijing and just as you say, it was construction cranes as far as the eye could see, or would be able to see if not for the poisonous acid fog... I was there in winter, you could smell coal smoke on the air just as soon as you stepped off the plane and you never really avoided it. (I started coughing up strange stuff at night after four days there, someone else on the same trip started getting shooting pains in his arm.) Anyhow, Three Gorges Dam is only the half of it, there are skyscrapers and shopping malls going up everywhere there.

Considering the drivers of cement demand in China, they have a lot further to go as well. In the past decade, the feverish pace of infrastructure (roads, airports, bridges, dams, tunnels, etc) construction has steadily boosted cement demand, but over the next decade and a half, China also expects to urbanize another 300 million people, so they will be building residences, streets, light posts (concrete in China), sewerage systems, commercial areas, etc. for the equivalent of the entire US population. "Urbanization" in China doesn't mean moving people to existing cities--it means building new cities in areas where people already live. This is probably the most fundamental long-term driver of cement demand in China.

This is what a friend of mine wrote in an email just a couple of weeks ago:

Mmmm Hefei is interesting..... lets just say i have been here for only a month and i have seen entire streets being ripped up and replaced in less than a week and buildings disappearing in a matter of hours and reappearing in a couple of days

Amazing construction activity hardly begins to describe it...

And here is why demand will not abate - the global infrastructure build.
new estimates have doubled for the next three years to $2.25 TRILLION

Infrastructure Opportunity Getting Bigger All the Time
by Frank Holmes, CEO, U.S. Global Investors | June 13, 2008

The investment opportunity in infrastructure seems to be getting bigger and better all the time, especially in emerging markets.

Merrill Lynch came out with a new research report that raises the expected spending on emerging-markets infrastructure to $2.25 trillion over the next three years, nearly double its earlier estimate.

We’re not at all surprised that Wall Street’s spending estimates for infrastructure are climbing fast.
The governments in these emerging nations have to maintain strong economic growth to keep their jobs, and to do that, they need more ports, airports, railroads, pipelines and other key industrial capabilities.

In addition, the ranks of the middle class in these countries are expanding in a thriving business environment, and these people want more and higher-quality housing, more and better roads for their new cars, and more extensive mobile phone networks.

And on top of that, huge numbers of people are pouring into the big cities from the countryside in search of steady work, and this is exerting pressure on electrical utilities and water systems.

Rapid urbanization is one of the strongest drivers of the infrastructure boom in emerging markets. In both China and India, for instance, the urban populations are expected to double in the next few decades.

We believe in the long-term sustainability of the infrastructure build-out, and we’re acting on that belief. Our Global MegaTrends Fund (MEGAX) is focused on identifying companies that stand to benefit from this powerful investment theme.

Merrill’s report has a detailed breakdown on where this spending will occur. No surprise, China is at the top of the list at $725 billion, or roughly a third of the total. The previous estimate for China was $400 billion.

The Middle East-Gulf region is next at $400 billion (up from $225 billion), followed by Russia at $325 billion (up from $195 billion), India at $240 billion (up from $110 billion) and Brazil at $225 billion (up from $180 billion).

There are hundreds of billions of dollars worth of infrastructure opportunities elsewhere in the emerging world: $120 billion in Mexico, $65 billion in Turkey, $60 billion in South Africa and $45 billion in central and eastern Europe.

In the U.S. and other developed nations, the emphasis is on repairing and rebuilding aging infrastructure.

Last week in Washington, big-city mayors in the U.S. asked Congress for help with their massive infrastructure repair needs. A bill in the Senate proposes a $60 billion “National Infrastructure Bank” to finance such projects.

That number is just a small fraction of the $1.6 trillion in spending that the American Society of Civil Engineers says is required over the next five years just to fix existing roads, bridges and other vital infrastructure.

But for investors, it still represents a huge long-term investment opportunity.

Copyright © 2008 Frank Holmes

[blatent punt]

How would you like to own www.Megatrends2020.com for your Megatrends fund?

[/blatent punt]



Come on -
s/he just copied an article from commonsense.com ...

Isn't this a kinda crappy commercial sales pitch for this site?

"Copyright" for goodness sakes?


Rough Guide as read else where and confirmed above is 1 ton Co2 per ton of cement produced .This does not include the crushing of stone and production of sand(a lot of which is ground down from rock in China) also amount of water required for sand washing and in actual Mix.Transport of of raw and finished materials
All in all mind blowing numbers !!!

Incredible graph. I believe Dam building is cement intensive (on site cement production at three gorges), and the Chinese have been building quite a few Dams this past decade.

Okay, and think about this: The data at top was compiled in January. There was a wee little earthquake in the middle of China about a month ago that left ~5 million folks homeless....

(2008 Sichuan earthquake)

Their cement use, from rebuilding alone, has got to go up...

Yes, China is building the equivalent of a 3 gorges dam every 2 years. They are putting dams on many other rivers. But the dam only used 10.8 million tons of cement. Less than 1% of one year's demand.

The cement usage is mainly driven by the fact that china is adding a one to one and half Los Angeles worth of city every year.

1.5%- 2% population migration from rural areas to small and large cities.
20 million to 30 million people into cities.

Apartments, houses, roads and offices and factories.

Nonbuilding construction fastest growing end use

Cement consumption in nonbuilding construction will continue to post the best gains of any end-use segment, rising 6.8 percent yearly through 2010. Gains will be stimulated mainly by strong growth in China’s nonbuilding construction activity. The government’s continued efforts to modernize the country’s infrastructure is exemplified by such massive projects as the South-North Water Diversion -- designed to redirect water to the northern plains from central and south China. This project, scheduled for completion in 2050, will result in annual cement consumption of over one million metric tons.

Nonresidential building will remain the largest end use for cement in China, growing at a 4.6 percent annual rate through 2010. Continued strength in foreign and private direct investment in commercial real estate development will help spur market gains.

Ready-mix concrete manufacturers in China will be the strongest market for cement, climbing at an annual pace of 12.9% to reach 194 million metric tons in 2008. Growth will be driven by the government's 2004 ban on onsite concrete production, enacted to help reduce environmental damage from onsite cement operations and improve the overall quality of concrete used in construction

Residential Building Construction
By Structure
New Housing
Additions, Alterations & Repairs
Nonresidential Building Construction
By Structure
New Construction
Additions, Alterations & Repairs
Nonbuilding Construction
By Structure
New Construction
Maintenance & Repairs

Industrialization & Manufacturing Trends
Construction Outlook
Building Construction
Nonbuilding Construction
Highways & Roads
Dams & Other Infrastructure



The titles of these graphs are way off. If you click through to the report used to generate these graphs, it clearly states that these numbers are cement PRODUCTION, not USE. There is obviously a huge difference.

In fact, the same report shows that the US imports 9% of the cement it uses from China. The report also talks about how US production is being throttled (rightfully so) by environmental regulations. So, it is possible that it is getting cheaper to import cement (possibly from a country with fewer restrictions on emissions) than to buy locally.

Undoubtedly, China is building at a furious pace right now. But these stats in no way show how much concrete is being used in that country. Look at the stats for Saudi Arabia; no increase in production, yet we know that there is some major construction going on there.

Let's not forget, either, that China has about 20% of the world's population.

Very good point.

Hmmm. That's sounds like a good catch. Do countries really export/import cement though? Talk about energy intense shipping...perhaps a silly question, but I'll be darned if I know. Do you think that China is exporting to KSA for example?

Learning something new every day--and embarrassing yourself slightly in the process, that's TOD for you. Damn. It's still an amazing chart, but I have more to learn on this one, methinks.

I have a meeting right now, but I will get back to this when I get out of it.


According to customs statistics, in 2007 Chinas accounted total exports cement was 33.01 million tons, worth 1.15 billion US dollars, compared with the previous year were down 8.6% and 2.6% respectively. Main destinations are EU, United States and the United Arab Emirates

So China exported just under 3% of its total production... it doesn't change the picture in any significant way.

Interesting. Exports dropped because the government changed their tax policy to discourage cement export. Apparently because it's an energy-intensive industry, and they didn't want to encourage it.

In 2007, the top 10 exporters of cement were (in tonnes):

China, 33,009,362
Thailand, 18,647,222
Germany, 8,012,489
Rep. of Korea, 6,340,754
Turkey, 5,512,679
Canada, 5,506,421
Pakistan, 4,572,745
Malaysia, 4,347,934
Greece, 3,742,223
Belgium, 3,545,020

The US was 19th, at 1,038,844 tonnes.

The top 10 importers were:

USA, 22,728,903
France, 4,714,000
Italy, 4,276,777
Singapore, 3,845,047
Rep. of Korea, 3,014,221
Netherlands, 2,705,010
Russian Federation, 2,444,509
Belgium, 1,985,232
Australia, 1,786,109
China, Hong Kong SAR, 1,733,863

Source: UN Commodity Trade Statistics

BoingBoing picked up this story, and a commentor there addresses this point: China's 2007 cement exports were 33 million tons out of 1.3 billion tons produced. So, at least for China, production is a pretty good proxy for demand.

Kyle - I've bee thinking of running a discussion post titled "Should future Olympic Games be banned".

I have a mental picture that China's development accelerated after they were awarded the Olympics - so this is arguably no bad thing. But it seems to have triggered this growth in global economy that all natural resources are struggling to supply.

So the question is this. Is there any data to support this notion - or was China headed this way in any case?

London as you know will host the next Olympics in the most likely year of peak oil production at a time when our country will most likely be totally broken. Do you think these global sporting events will be sustainable in future?

China was headed in this way irrespective of the Olympics. Three convergent trends set the stage for China's take off in the early 2000s:

1. The completion of the vast industrial restructuring of a number of large energy-intensive industries through consolidation and shut-down throughout the late 1990s. This affected textiles, non-ferrous metals, coal mining, chemicals and other industries. The goal was to increase the international competitiveness of these sectors. The restructuring was the cause behind the decline in China's energy consumption in the late 1990s.

2. Accession to the WTO in late 2001.

3. The departure of Premier Zhu Rongji and replacement by Wen Jiabao in early 2003. Zhu was a financial hardliner and kept credit expansion in industry under tight control. Wen basically opened the gates to easy credit, at a time when Chinese interest rates were being driven down by the yuan's link to the dollar, and the US response to the dot.com bust. This to me is most significant, since most of China's GDP growth since then has been from capital formation and not consumer expenditure.

China's growth is largely domestic driven. Its external sector, though large, is equivalent to about 20% of the economy in value-added terms.

3. The departure of Premier Zhu Rongji and replacement by Wen Jiabao in early 2003. Zhu was a financial hardliner and kept credit expansion in industry under tight control. Wen basically opened the gates to easy credit, at a time when Chinese interest rates were being driven down by the yuan's link to the dollar, and the US response to the dot.com bust. This to me is most significant, since most of China's GDP growth since then has been from capital formation and not consumer expenditure.

Some can't imagine why the stock market has crashed 50% and China is raising reserve requirements. Some people can't imagine why China would stomp on real estate bubbles by raising taxes dramatically on real estate transactions in the areas that have been affected by them.

Chinese policy has this flexibility because politicians control monetary and banking policy in China instead of an "independent" federal reserve whose primary goal as of late is to spend however much money it takes to save the banks.

Thanks for very useful insight.

How far into the future the Olympics or other international congregating will be sustainable is an open question. But, as long as possible, I would prefer that kind of aggregating to military aggregation. There's a value to peaceful international events. I also oppose the politicization of the Olympics -- which is not what you're doing here, I understand that.

Well, the first modern Olympics, far as I know none of the athletes or audience flew or sailed there using oil, though quite a few might have gone on coal-fired trains or ships.

But then, there were only 241 athletes, 43 events and a few thousand visitors.

Whereas the next Olympics held in Athens had over 10,000 athletes, and more than 20,000 media people, over 300 events, and hundreds of thousands of visitors.

I don't think any host city has ever made a profit from hosting the games, it's a prestige thing - sometimes done in the hopes of long-term indirect profit from increased tourism and the like.

I understand that condom manufacturers do well during Olympics. Lots of fit young people meeting other fit young people from countries exotic to them, full of nervous tension they want to release...

Food for thought:

How much of present cement consumption could be replaced with rammed earth, sun-baked adobe, or some other kind of much lower-energy equivalent? Certainly there are many structural roles that can't be met by such alternatives (at least as they exist now), but as energy-intensity becomes an increasingly critical factor in the viability of construction, how much will we improve these vernacular techniques with modern materials science? Many buildings currently made from cement could be made just as well with adobe or rammed earth using more labor but much less fossil energy. There are 7-level residential high rises in Yemen made from mud-brick that have lasted for 500 years.

Rammed earth and adobe construction is a death trap in earthquake prone areas.

This is wrong...

Great article and conversation!

Yes, concrete is ever-important to numerous aspects of modern life and infrastructure replacement. Even so, I think peak oil-cum-concrete will be a mother of innovation for a whole host of new and exciting developments in construction techniques and materials. Some of these may not only be energy efficient, but cost-effective and fast as well. Here's one example:

New bridge can be built in two weeks

How about newer composite materials such as ceramics, carbon fiber, etc. Seems like they could do wonders. Even old materials like bamboo are quite versatile and have a LOT to offer.

Moving to rail will eliminate a lot of heavy truck traffic.

Reference earth building in Yemen: The climate makes it work - no rain. Not feasible in China. Reference wooden structures: Ever heard of the Formosan Termite? There is no wooden structure in China older than 100 yrs. the vast majority of forests in China were cut down during the Han dynasty, lumber is an expensive luxury in China, Korea and Japan. Reference people not liking to live above 2 stories: Get over it, unless you're advocating the euthanasia of close to a billion people. Bamboo? Get real. Nowhere near the supply available and climatologically impractical for a sustainable infrastructure.

There is plenty of rain in Britain.
There are also plenty of straw and mud built houses, known as Cob, many of which have been here for over 200 years.
The first great wall of China was also build of mud.
Bamboo is a very fast-growing plant, and is a substantial resource.

Just seems to me it should be a requirement for proponents of new ideas to at minimum pre-educate themselves thoroughly in the area of expertise which they propose to radically modify. There are inumerable resources available to any auto-didactic with access to this medium. For example I would hate to find out we'd poisoned an entire generation of children with the preservatives required to keep a bamboo structure insert-free. Is there no possibility of that? Several hundred other questions.

Maybe that's just me though.

Korea and Japan have very strong forestation and forest protection programmes. Japan is 68% forest-covered, Republic of Korea 64% (DPRK 9%, thus their famine in the 1990s).

In China over the past 20 years, their forest cover has grown from 12% to 18% through a dedicated effort at it.

In all three countries, much of the timber they use they import. It's not expensive because it's scarce, but because it's valued.

In 2002 the US trade deficit with China was 78 billion per month. It is now a 1/4 of a trillion per month, and yet zero efforts have been put forth to reign in this burgeoning problem. If you consider how much money flees our country for oil, and in trade deficits, its no wonder that we have to keep borrowing against our wealth to support our needs. As we lose more and more manufacturing, China manufacturers ever more. As our leaders play a game of stalemate with no appreciable results, China is forging new alignments with Africa and a host of other countries for more natural resources. Included in that list is a recent deal to receive heavy oil from Venezuela. Yes, the stuff Exxon was receiving prior to a legal conflict.

The US is mired in a political game of gotcha, pivoting to exacerbate the other party at every turn, yet the net result is a country that is treading water, compared to the torrent of China. Deffeyes stated in his book on Peak Oil, that the math is simple. At the current rates of increase, China will simply fly by us by 2015-2020.

The charts showing how much cement (concrete is water, cement and rock) is being used in all too real. It reflects that China is the next super power, and we will soon be a relection in the mirror.

Where you getting 250 billion per month?

I know where some of this cement is going:


This is a 120+ acre facility being built. I'm sure there are hundreds of projects of a similar scale going on in China right now. This totally dwarfs what we're building in the US. And the rate at which they are building each project is staggering.

Does anyone know what sort of home construction is common in China? In Taiwan, at least, most homes (and even telephone poles) are constructed from concrete. Is anyone aware of whether or not this is common in China as well? I suppose they have access to a lot more lumber than Taiwan does, so it may not be the case, but if it is, it at least partially explains why they're using so much concrete. Obviously they're investing a lot more in infrastructure than we are at this point, but the difference may not be as great as we think.

Re the discussion of concrete versus asphalt road systems:

More evidence of man's penchant to 'do what has always been done.' More evidence that our energy need projections are low and will further accelerate the effects of peak oil.

After Eisenhower called for a national system of interstate highways for defense and transportation, the National Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (NASHTO) began a study of roadway design. Between 1956 and 61, the study was conducted near Ottawa, Illinois. It was the most extensive study of its type every done. From the data collected, the designs for american highway systems were developed which are the basis of almost all road construction in the USA form that time and even today. One of the reasons for the rapid deterioration of our highways and roadways (and a reason why demand for highway materials like asphalt and concrete will need to go up) is that conditions have changed. In 1960, very few cars rode on radial tires. Today, most do. Radials are much stiffer, must be inflated to much higher pressures, and have much higher impacts on the road surface. In 1960, very few trucks rode on 'air-ride' suspension systems. Today, most do. The purpose of an 'air-ride' system is to deliver any shock to the road, not the load. These two factors alone mean that road designs based on 1960 data will deteriorate at a much faster than anticipated level.

I don't know outside the USA what design criteria is used for highway construction. I do know that roads are being built in the US today that will not come close to their planned lifespan. This all means we will have more need for these construction materials than we currently plan or project. The energy that we now project for future highway construction and repair (to make the cement, quarry, screen and transport the rock, mix the concrete, transport the concrete, pump, lay and finish the concrete, etc.) is sure to be well below the actual need.

As discussed above, the raw materials to make cement (and concrete and asphalt) are way down the list of the commodities we should worry about. The energy to produce them and the demand for them is likely badly underestimated. The reality of the energy needed to produce the cement, etc. being larger than expected will further steepen the cliff of peak oil.

I just heard Prof. Goose on NPR!!

5:28 pm pst.

Good Job!