Building Sector Issues in about 100 Years: End-Of-Life Scenarios of Carbon-Reinforced Concrete Presented in the Context of a Life Cycle Assessment, Focusing the Carbon Footprint

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Carbon-reinforced concrete (CRC) has the potential to play a pivotal role in optimizing the built environment and has therefore been experiencing a wave of research and development in the construction industry in recent years. The production of carbon fibers for CRC is energy-intensive, prompting the need to explore circular economy approaches (e.g., recycling at the End-of-Life (EoL)) to optimize the environmental performance of this material. Underdeveloped processes and a resulting lack of primary data regarding the recycling of CRC have hampered a comprehensive sustainability assessment of the novel composite building material. The novelty of this article is the detailed presentation of possible EoL scenarios for CRC and the detailed determination of the respective environmental impacts. This study aims to model EoL options within a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), focusing on the EoL stage based on ISO 14040/44 using the GaBi ts software and the CML2001 (2016) methodology. The practical relevance of the study lies in the early consideration of the entire life cycle of new materials, such as CRC, already in the design phase. Furthermore, the EoL can have relevant impacts on the environment, and due to an increasing significance of sustainability aspects, this LCA clarifies first approaches for the future of the construction sector in quantitative statements (e.g., CO2 emissions). All data are literature-based and are explained in detail and calculated for our case study with the functional unit of one kilogram of re-usable material (reusable and fully usable “raw” material for further use/ development) from a double wall. The impact assessment was calculated for 11 midpoint categories and related indicators, although the main focus was on Global Warming Potential (GWP). It was found that the highest-quality recycled options for CRC arise when the individual fractions (concrete matrix and carbon fibers) are first broken up, separated and then individually processed. This study focused mainly on the processing of the carbon fibers contained in CRC, for which pyrolysis and mechanical recycling have the strongest potential for industrial application. For the demolition and separation of both the concrete and the carbon fiber fractions, the conventional transport from the demolition site to the stationary processing plant proved to be the main driver of the GWP (1.4 × 10−3 kg CO2e). In the subsequent processing of the carbon fibers, pyrolysis showed a higher GWP (9.7 × 10−3 kg CO2e) than mechanical recycling (3.1 × 10−4 kg CO2e). In addition, the production of one m³ of concrete (C30/37) was compared to a primary raw material concrete fraction. Concrete can be successfully used as a substitute material for the gravel present in the C30/37 concrete. The use of recycled parts in concrete (originating from the concrete used in carbon-reinforced concrete) as a substitute for primary gravel showed a savings of 6.9 kg CO2e per m³ of primary concrete, corresponding to a reduction of 22.5%. The results show that the mechanical recycling of carbon fibers is overall the route with the lowest energy input and emissions. However, compared to pyrolysis, the recycled carbon fibers from mechanical recycling have a lower quality. Therefore, despite the higher energy input, pyrolysis is a more promising approach to close the material cycle. Furthermore, recycled aggregate concrete can reduce emissions by a quarter compared to primary concrete. Finally, this work aimed to provide a basis for further life cycle optimization in the construction sector. In subsequent studies, the EoL must be combined with the production and use stages to depict the entire life cycle, identify possible trade-offs and compare the results with conventional construction methods or materials such as steel-reinforced concrete.


Original languageEnglish
Article number1791
JournalProcesses : open access journal
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 5 Sept 2022

External IDs

Scopus 85138661528
WOS 000857768600001
Mendeley f8ac2b23-5e0c-34f6-bd75-d2c746417087
unpaywall 10.3390/pr10091791



  • LCA, carbon fiber, carbon-reinforced concrete, end-of-life, recycling, reinforced concrete

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