A team of interdisciplinary researchers at UCLA led by Gaurav Sant may have found a way to create a version of concrete that may eliminate greenhouse gases that are emitted from traditional cement.

Sant, an Indian American associate professor and Henry Samueli Fellow in civil and environmental engineering at the university, has led the scientific contributions of the research, which focuses on capturing carbon from power plant smokestacks and using it to create a new building material called CO2NCRETE. The new material would be fabricated using 3-D printers, according to a UCLA report published March 14.

Concrete is made when mixing cement and water. Cement is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, a larger source of carbon dioxide emissions is flue gas emitted from smokestacks at power plants, the report added.

The team of researchers, which includes Richard Kaner, Laurent Pilon and Matthieu Bauchy, are hoping the CO2NCRETE eliminates those environmental issues. Director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation J.R. DeShazo has provided the public policy and economic guidance for the research.

The hope is to turn the carbon dioxide into something valuable.

“The approach we are trying to propose is you look at carbon dioxide as a resource — a resource you can reutilize,” Sant said in the UCLA report. “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.”

Though the research has been attempted before, DeShazo said the challenge is what to do with the carbon dioxide once it’s 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,” he said in the university report.

Ideally, the researchers will reduce greenhouse gas in the U.S., with an emphasis on areas with an excess of coal-fired power plants. Though DeShazo noted that there is even more promise of reducing emissions in India and China, countries where greenhouse gas is higher than the U.S.

Thus far, the materials have only been made in a lab setting using 3-D printers to shape it into tiny cones. The next step is to increase the volume of material for eventual commercial use.

“We can demonstrate a process where we take lime and combine it with carbon dioxide to produce a cement-like material,” Sant added in the university report. “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 continued by saying they want to be able to print a beam longer than what they can currently. “Size scalability is a really important part,” he said.

The other challenge hovering over the project is sustainability, and proving to stakeholders that it is beneficial for all parties involved. Sant and DeShazo are confident UCLA is the right place for overcoming the challenges.

“As one of the leading universities in the world, we see ourselves as having a blue-sky approach,” Sant said. “We see ourselves wanting to develop technologies that might be considered fanciful at one point but become reality very quickly. So we see ourselves looking at a blue sky and saying, well then, let’s come up with ideas which will change the world.”

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