Leading Voices: Cement and Concrete Standards

Interviews with Manuel Lascarro, a Leader in the Latin American Concrete Industry, and Mike Ireland, Chief Operating Officer of the Portland Cement Association


Manuel Lascarro


Manuel Lascarro

What large infrastructure projects are being developed in Latin America and how will standards help make them a reality?

Since the construction of the original Panama Canal, which has been in service since 1914, to the expansion of the same canal more than 100 years later, concrete has been the star in almost all the important infrastructure projects in the region, due to its properties and local availability. But Latin America, as a region still under construction, has a lot of needs in highways, bridges, tunnels, roads, and public transportation systems to increase its competitiveness — for example, a new airport in Mexico City and a new metro system in Bogotá.

Countries like Colombia, México, and Peru are planning or already have contracts to develop large projects over the next five to seven years using public funds or by attracting public-private partnerships. One of the key points today is the durability of new infrastructure and how to assure that it will be built on schedule, cost, and quality.

From my point of view, ASTM standards related to infrastructure will help governments, engineers, producers, testing facilities, and contractors meet society’s expectations, delivering the invaluable knowledge of experts who already have been dealing with technical challenges in this area.

Are there any new concrete products or processes being introduced in Latin America?

Several global cement and ready-mixed concrete companies operate in Latin America, and the technology available today in the market is very similar to that in the United States, Europe, or Japan, like self-consolidating or pervious concrete.

In terms of processes, the concrete precast industry is moving ahead to supply the needs of the new infrastructure projects, due to adjusted schedules. So, in the upcoming years, we expect a lot of growth in this industry, which is still very small in the majority of the countries, with the exception of Mexico, Chile, and Brazil.

Is the region using more standards to improve efficiency in public infrastructure development?

When a new infrastructure project starts, there are always questions about how to design, how to measure, and how to control various aspects of the development, even when the project has already been well prepared. In many cases, standards answer — or help to answer — those questions, and, I believe, there is a consensus about this point between governments, contractors, and suppliers. If you have standards — and ASTM standards are used in several cases — you are preventing future disputes during projects, avoiding delays and reputational costs, because everybody has transparency about the way specific measurements are going to be made.

For example, when concrete testing is required in any form, advance planning for the use of standards is particularly important. In that way, all the participants will know what and how to perform a reliable test, giving vital information to designers, engineers, quality surveyors, government agencies, or project owners about how to proceed with the results of the test, having in mind the impact in terms of public safety, cost, and schedule. 

What benefits does the consumer gain from infrastructure projects?

Despite the average citizen’s paying for public projects through taxes — and the majority of infrastructure projects are public — that same citizen is not aware of the importance of using standards in those projects. If a highway is built with standards that assure its durability, the average citizen will save money. If the same highway has been built to be as smooth as possible, according to the Concrete Sustainability Hub at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the citizen will save also fuel and reduce carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions.

The technical community has a responsibility to teach communities about the great value of standards for common citizens so they understand how standards like those from ASTM International help improve the quality of their daily lives.

Manuel Lascarro is executive director of the Iberoamerican Federation of Ready Mixed Concrete and director general of ASOCRETO (Coiombian Concrete Association) in Bogotá, Colombia. A former member of the ASTM International board of directors, Lascarro is a member of the committees on concrete and concrete aggregates (C09) and sustainability (E60).

Mike Ireland

Mike Ireland

How would you describe the role of cement in the construction and rehabilitation of public infrastructure?

Safe, strong, and efficient infrastructure is the backbone of our civilization and economy, as transportation networks built with concrete connect large and small American businesses to the global marketplace. Thanks to the cement used to make concrete, our roads and bridges, runways, ports, and waterways are durable, resilient, and built to serve our nation for generations to come.

Today, concrete is used for both new and existing infrastructure – with applications for reconstruction, resurfacing, restoration, or rehabilitation. There are many reasons why concrete has been the material used in America’s transportation and infrastructure networks for almost a century: it has long life and low life-cycle cost; it is safe and reliable; and it creates fewer traffic disruptions due to quick repairs.

Cement and concrete companies supply not only the main ingredients needed for an infrastructure revival but also provide significant benefits to the U.S. economy. The combined cement and concrete industry supports 535,000 jobs, and contributes $100 billion annually to our economy. These facts alone demonstrate the foundational role that cement plays in U.S. infrastructure revitalization.

How is the cement industry responding to environmental concerns?

U.S. cement producers have a strong culture of innovation that has led to gains in energy efficiency and new sustainable manufacturing practices that continually reduce environmental impacts. Over the last 40 years, these manufacturers have reduced the energy used to produce a metric ton of cement by roughly 40 percent.
That’s thanks to company-driven improvements in equipment reliability, energy efficiency, and the increased the use of alternative fuels. In fact, the incorporation of alternative fuels into cement mixtures, such as industrial byproducts that otherwise would end up in landfills, now represent more than 15 percent of total U.S. cement plant energy consumption. Stand-out efforts by cement producers in these areas have been consistently recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program.

The industry also embraces technology transfer. One prominent example is the annual IEEE-IAS1/PCA Cement Industry Technical Conference, which showcases new technologies and new best practices through case studies, peer-reviewed technical papers and presentations, and more.

Are there emerging technologies in cement of particular interest to your organization and industry? If so, why and what is PCA doing in their regard?

There are significant research projects into a variety of emerging technologies that would help address the industry’s carbon footprint. For example, PCA supports and actively participates in the European Cement Research Academy’s research into oxyfuel combustion as part of larger research into carbon capture and sequestration. PCA also sponsors ECRA research into the energy efficiency of grinding processes. Both projects hold tremendous potential for revolutionary impacts in cement manufacturing and validating emerging technologies on a plant-level scale.

In addition, the industry is working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Concrete Sustainability Hub on a number of paving-related projects. Given the economic challenge of building and maintaining pavements, there is a growing need to better quantify performance and cost over a project’s entire life cycle. The hub is developing tools and data for decision makers to use in evaluating pavement designs to ensure they are both cost-effective and environmentally responsible.

What are your current priorities?

PCA is working with Capitol Hill, the Trump Administration, and allied organizations to help move significant infrastructure-related legislation in the 115th Congress. Our message is clear: Act now and avoid further delay on addressing federal infrastructure funding and project implementation. American cement producers have ample capacity to make what is needed for runways, roadways, railways, and river infrastructure. 

1. The IEEE-Industry Applications Society, one of the largest special interest societies in IEEE (formerly the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).

Michael Ireland is chief operating officer of the Portland Cement Association, which represents U.S. cement manufacturers and promotes safety, sustainability, and innovation in construction, and cement manufacturing and distribution. He previously was associate executive director of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and also held management positions at other industry-related organizations.

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