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Converting Carbon Emissions into Concrete

Friday, March 18, 2016

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In a process they call “carbon upcycling,” a group of University of California, Los Angeles, researchers is working on a way to recapture and repurpose industrial carbon emissions into potential construction materials.

The interdisciplinary team has been working on a technology to turn one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide, flue gas emitted from smokestacks at power plants, into a building material for buildings, roads and bridges.

Called CO2NCRETE—the product is fabricated using 3D printers, the university reported in a news announcement.

A Game-Changer

The development could be revolutionary for climate policy, according to J.R. DeShazo, professor of Public Policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.

“This technology tackles global climate change, which is one of the biggest challenges that society faces now and will face over the next century,” said DeShazo.

UCLA admits that it is not the first to attempt to capture carbon emissions from power plants, but the challenge has been what to do with the CO2 once it’s captured.

“We hope to not only capture more gas,” DeShazo said, “but we’re going to take that gas and, instead of storing it, which is the current approach, we’re going to try to use it to create a new kind of building material that will replace cement.”

Going from Lab to Real-World

So far, the new construction material has only been produced only at a lab scale, using 3D printers to shape it into tiny cones, the university announced.

“We have proof of concept that we can do this,” DeShazo said.

“But we need to begin the process of increasing the volume of material and then think about how to pilot it commercially. It’s one thing to prove these technologies in the laboratory. It’s another to take them out into the field and see how they work under real-world conditions.”

Process and Scaling

Gaurav Sant, associate professor and Henry Samueli Fellow in Civil and Environmental Engineering, says the team can demonstrate a process taking lime and combining it with carbon dioxide to produce a cement-like material.

Screenshot via UCLA video

The team has produced a proof of concept for CO2NCRETE in the lab and are working on further developments.

“The big challenge we foresee with this is we’re not just trying to develop a building material. We’re trying to develop a process solution, an integrated technology which goes right from CO2 to a finished product,” Sant explains.

“3D printing has been done for some time in the biomedical world,” he added, “but when you do it in a biomedical setting, you’re interested in resolution. You’re interested in precision.

“In construction, all of these things are important but not at the same scale. There is a scale challenge, because rather than print something that’s 5 centimeters long, we want to be able to print a beam that’s 5 meters long. The size scalability is a really important part.”

The Road Ahead

The university also reports that getting stakeholders on board is another challenge to bringing the technology to market.

“This technology could change the economic incentives associated with these power plants in their operations and turn the smokestack flue gas into a resource countries can use, to build up their cities, extend their road systems,” DeShazo said.

“It takes what was a problem and turns it into a benefit in products and services that are going to be very much needed and valued in places like India and China.

“China is currently the largest greenhouse gas producer in the world, and India will soon be No. 2, surpassing [the U.S.].”

DeShazo has provided the public policy and economic guidance for the research. The scientific contributions have been led by Sant; Richard Kaner, distinguished professor in Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Materials Science and Engineering; Laurent Pilon, professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Bioengineering; and Matthieu Bauchy, assistant professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering.


Tagged categories: Air pollution control; Asia Pacific; Bridges; Building materials; Carbon dioxide; Colleges and Universities; concrete; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Emissions; Environmental Control; Environmental Protection; Green chemistry; Latin America; North America; Program/Project Management; Research and development

Comment from Ted Dickson, (3/18/2016, 5:16 AM)

I see a significant flaw in this process. It mentioned using lime to capture the CO2. However, to make lime you calcine limestone to drive off the CO2 so all you are doing is replacing one source of CO2 emissions with another and in addition to the CO2 driven off from the limestone there are additional emissions from the burning of fuel to do that so a net increase in emissions of CO2.

Comment from John Fauth, (3/18/2016, 8:36 AM)

If your heart is in the right place you can begin the calculation at any point along the process in order to make it appear more effective and to maximize the satisfaction of saving the planet.

Comment from Rasmus Forsberg, (3/18/2016, 9:31 AM)

This is an extremly bad article. Using lime to fixate CO2 have been the principle in lime based motars for over 2000 years. It seems the real idea is using buzzwords like upcycling, 3D printing and CO2NCRETE to raise money which should be used for research in green solutions.

Comment from Timothy Werbstein, (3/21/2016, 7:40 AM)

Another method of converting CO2 into building material is to plant and properly care for trees. Now, if someone developed an artificial photosynthesis to mimic that process, that would be a game changer.

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