From carbon dioxide to concrete – a new sustainable building material

Signal of change / From carbon dioxide to concrete – a new sustainable building material

By Madhumitha Ardhanari / 20 Jul 2016

Researchers at UCLA have developed a form of cement-like material from carbon dioxide.

The process involves the use of carbon dioxide emitted from smokestacks at power plants – one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – as an ingredient to fabricate a new building material, “CO2NCRETE”, with the help of 3D printers.

While other projects have successfully managed to capture and store the gas emitted from power plants before, this is the first time it has been successfully converted into a building material using digital fabrication.

So what?

This is particularly remarkable as both the construction industry and the production of cement for the concrete used in the industry are major contributors of GHG emissions. We have used concrete in our infrastructure for the past 200 years and it is responsible for about 5% of the planet's greenhouse gas emissions.

By upcycling polluting materials to use as feedstock for more sustainable concrete, the researchers have located a new process solution - a way to close the loop and potentially create new circular business models in the construction industry.

So far, the material has largely been produced in a laboratory setting and the next step is to find cost-effective ways to produce the material in industrial quantities while ensuring its safety and durability. The company Calera, which similarly aimed to produce cement from carbon dioxide and industrial waste had to modify its strategy in recent years, highlighting the industry-wide challenges in scaling up sustainable solutions in manufacturing.

Various groups are scrambling to find value in waste and converting linear business models into circular ones. While this is an important and worthy pursuit, if we are serious about limiting global warming to 2 degrees, we need to concurrently focus our efforts on cutting down global energy use and fossil fuel dependency in the first place. We cannot afford to wait, we only have five more years for a fighting chance.

Image credit: Anders Jildén / Unsplash

Sources

Phys.org (March 15, 2016). Researchers turn carbon dioxide into sustainable concrete.

University of California, Los Angeles (March 14, 2016) UCLA researchers turn carbon dioxide into sustainable concrete. 

Concrete Network (undated). What makes concrete a sustainable building material?

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