Concrete is everywhere; it is used for our roads, bridges, and buildings, to name just a few. But now a team of researchers may have just come up with a much better product.
Researchers from UCLA have been working on a unique solution to help reduce greenhouse gases from power plants around the world.
Their solution is to create a closed-loop process; this would capture carbon from the power plant smokestacks. Then use what they have captured to create a new building material they call “CO2NCRETE,” which could be fabricated using 3D printers.
J.R. DeShazo, professor of public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, said in a statement:
“What this technology does is take something that we have viewed as a nuisance — carbon dioxide that’s emitted from smokestacks — and turn it into something valuable.
“I decided to get involved in this project because it could be a game-changer for climate policy. This technology tackles global climate change, which is one of the biggest challenges that society faces now, and will face over the next century.”
While capturing carbon emissions from power plants is nothing new, the researchers, led by Gaurav Sant, an associate professor and Henry Samueli Fellow in Civil and Environmental Engineering, have come up with what to do with it once it is captured.
“We hope to not only capture more gas, 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.
“The approach we are trying to propose is you look at carbon dioxide as a resource — a resource you can reutilize. While cement production results in carbon dioxide, just as the production of coal or the production of natural gas does, if we can reutilize CO2 to make a building material, which would be a new kind of cement, that’s an opportunity.”
According to UCLA the researchers are motivated in reducing greenhouse gas in the U.S., but DeShazo also mentions the possibilities of also reducing emissions in China and India. China is currently the largest greenhouse gas producer in the world, with India to become number two — if it keeps with its current trend.
However, the new construction material has only been produced in the lab, using 3-D printers to shape it into tiny cones. But, DeShazo recognizes there is still a lot of planning to go, saying:
“We have proof of concept that we can do this, 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.”
The process involves using lime and combining it with the carbon dioxide, producing a “cement-like material.” Sant said:
“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.
“3-D printing has been done for some time in the biomedical world, 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.”
This could be the answer to “how can we use carbon emissions from power plants?” The idea of using this technology has its merits, turning a problem into a beneficial product.