Groundbreaking R&D to Cut Carbon in Concrete


John Handscomb


Precast is one of the most widely adopted Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), however as a cement-based product, concrete manufacture is a fuel and electro-intensive process, said to be responsible for 4-8% of the world’s CO2 emissions. Supported by Innovate UK funding, this R&D project built on existing research to find ways to reduce the embodied carbon of precast concrete, crucially applied against a real-world project for the Ministry of Justice. The team challenged every decision made within design, manufacture and construction, through the lens of carbon, resulting in significant carbon savings. We ensured the solution was also commercially viable and technically ready for adoption by companies across the sector, in the immediate.

What we did

Akerlof led the Innovate UK bid, assembled the partners and managed the project as PMO, working with all external stakeholders, including Innovate UK and the Ministry of Justice. We established an integrated team from across the value chain, consciously creating an environment for collaboration to ensure that the development of solutions reached beyond respective organisational boundaries, such that all partners were co- responsible for sustainable outcomes.

The impact

Our precast solution achieved a 40% reduction in embodied carbon against industry baselines (ICE database), specifically, saving an estimated 21.8 million kgC0 2e in the construction of 4 new prisons for the Ministry of Justice

Compliance with codes and regulation, having testing within a laboratory and at scale in the manufacturing environment

Optimised solution that eradicated carbon by challenging the Employer’s Requirements and balancing reinforcement and concrete strength Commercially viable option for the market in terms of price, risk and production; technically ready for adoption across multiple sectors

Don't just take our word for it...

This study demonstrates how collaboration through the supply chain can bring subject matter experts together to develop innovative solutions for decarbonising. We look forward to embedding such solutions in the MoJ’s New Prison Programme.

Gareth Jones, Head of MMC & Technical Services, Ministry of Justice

Property Week interviewed our Partner, John Handscomb on the impact of COVID-19 on the climate emergency and businesses can prioritise net zero
Read their ‘Net Zero needs Concrete Thinking’ article

On publishing our report the project was picked up by media around the globe including Sky News Watch a video of the broadcast
New Civil Engineer covered our achievements in ‘UK research team reduces embodied carbon in concrete’ Read the story

Jamie Hillier


With a penchant for tweed and jackets with leather arm patches, Jamie began his career as a quantity surveyor, before climbing the ladder to lead major projects for a Tier 1 contractor.

Eventually expanding his book collection beyond copies of SMM7, Jamie has interest in a broad range of subjects linked to delivering better outcomes for society and the environment.

His strategic insights on MMC and behavioural science have made their way into numerous government, industry and academic publications, including the Construction Playbook, Transforming Infrastructure Performance Roadmap to 2030, the Platform Rulebook and the RIBA DfMA Overlay.

John Handscomb


Construction is in John’s blood. Learning from his father who was a planner and project manager, John began his career by working on some iconic projects in both the public and private sector.

As a procurement expert and integrator of new ways of working, John has pioneered the integration of platform principles, DfMA processes and supply chain within over £5bn projects in the last 15 years, for some of the largest building programmes in the UK. Despite his considerable expertise, John keeps it simple, communicating complicated ideas with ease and helping to equip the industry with new knowledge and skills.

Outside of Akerlof, John enjoys his executive role with technology start-up ScanTech Digital, spending time with his family, taking trips down the football, playing a bit of golf with friends and the odd pint. 

Our name is shared with George Akerlof, a Nobel Prize-winning economist.

His seminal paper, Market for Lemons, demonstrated the devastating consequences of making decisions under the conditions of quality uncertainty and unequal information between buyers and sellers, increasing the chance of buyers ending up with a ‘lemon’.

This 50-year-old concept continues to retain parallels within the construction industry.

Through our insight and experience, we can rebalance this information asymmetry on behalf of our clients, levelling the playing field to deliver better outcomes.