Briefing Report

The long journey to concrete and steel decarbonization

Data center operators are scrutinizing carbon impacts across the life cycle of their operations. Their analysis has expanded to incorporate materials used in the building infrastructure, including concrete and steel structural components, cables, pipes, wires and racks. Concrete and steel, which have a high embedded carbon content, can account for up to 50% (40% from concrete and 10% from steel) of the building shell product carbon footprint (PCF). While there are options to decarbonize these materials, they typically only reduce embedded carbon by 30%. Volume availability of decarbonized materials is likely to be more than a decade away.


  • Concrete and steel account for up to 50% of the carbon footprint of a data center facility (40% and 10% respectively).
  • In the near term, process efficiency improvements, the use of alternative fuels in some process steps and material substitutions can deliver reductions of 30% to 50% in the product carbon footprint of these materials.
  • Data center designers can reduce the quantity of steel and concrete through the substitution of lighter, low-carbon density structural elements (such as timber framing) or through the development of innovative designs that make more efficient use of steel and cement to achieve the desired strength and performance of the building structure.
  • Efforts to re-engineer manufacturing processes to utilize low-carbon materials and energy or capture carbon are in the early stages of development. It will likely be more than a decade before these materials and processes can be delivered at the volumes required for their complete decarbonization.

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