Remarkably, the material that built the first modern civilization remains key to building today’s global economy. The cement we use in 2017 is not so different from the stuff used to build the concrete dome of the Roman Pantheon in 125 AD.

What has changed is that today we use vastly greater quantities of the grey powder: more than 4.2 trillion kg annually. To put that in perspective, you could build 1,000 Hoover Dams each year with the amount of concrete that much cement would make.

That’d be all well and good except for the fact that 1 kg of cement releases more than 0.5 kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As a result, the cement industry is currently responsible for about 5% of global CO2 emissions—more than double the aviation industry.

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