Cement production is among the most difficult industrial activities to decarbonize. Various measures have been proposed and explored to reduce its CO2 emissions. Among these measures, the substitution of portland cement (PC) clinker with alternative materials is arguably the most effective, and consequently is an area of high research and commercial interest. However, few studies have systematically quantified environmental impacts of alternative, i.e., non-PC, clinkers. Here, we quantify and compare environmental impacts arising from the production of binders derived from several of the most commonly investigated alternative cement systems. We show that binders derived from most of these alternative cements result in lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as well as other indicators of environmental impacts relative to the PC binder. The extent of these reductions varies as a function of energy requirements for production, process-related emissions from clinker formation, and raw materials demand. While utilization of alternative cements can be environmentally beneficial, similar reductions in GHG emissions can be achieved through use of partial replacement of PC with mineral admixtures. In this work, we quantitatively demonstrate the potential for alternative binders to mitigate environmental burdens and highlight the need to consider trade-offs among environmental impact categories when assessing these products.

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