What’s even better than beer? Cement – at least in the fight against global warming

Technology |  2 min. read

We told you recently how beer might save the planet (by helping to reduce the amount of CO2 (or if you prefer, carbon dioxide) which is going into the atmosphere, and warming up the planet) .

Now, you can add cement to that list of planet-savers.

Ok, so cement as a subject is not as interesting as beer – and unless you’re in the construction business, odds are you’ve probably never ordered a round of cement.

But if there were a popularity contest, cement beats beer, hands down.  In fact, we humans “consume” (that’s the word from the statisticians, but “use” sounds better) more concrete than any other substance but one (water).  And the main ingredient of concrete is:  cement.

Case in point;  last year, we went through more than 4,600 MILLION TONS of cement – which is a lot of anything.  But that also means, when there is good news about cement – it’s a lot of good news.

And in this case, the good news is about reducing CO2 emissions by – using some of that carbon dioxide to make cement.

A research team at UCLA is developing the new approach.  Everything about this idea of “capturing”* carbon dioxide emissions is relatively new – but what makes the UCLA approach newer still is first, their idea to use that CO2 to make something new, to think of that carbon dioxide as a raw material (instead of just storing the CO2 in some way), and second, their idea to use that CO2 to improve an existing product, in this case, cement.

They believe their new material, which they call CO2NCRETE™, has the potential to be stronger than today’s cement/concrete (thanks to the carbonation).  And while it could be poured out of a cement mixer, just like the ones we see on construction sites all the time – the new material could also be put to work with different techniques, like 3D printing.

The next step, taking CO2NCRETE™ out of the lab, and lab sizes, like this…

…and making something big enough to build with.  Something like this maybe…

(One of the world’s great concrete structures, the dome of the Pantheon in Rome.)

But it all starts with a new way of thinking about an old problem:  what do we with our trash.  And the new solution, whether that “trash” is CO2 being released into the air, or plastic bottles getting tossed in the ocean – is thinking of that “trash” as raw material, as a resource to make something new with.

*”Capturing” carbon dioxide means – when an industrial process, like making cement or producing power, produces CO2, instead of allowing that to go up a smokestack and into the air, the carbon dioxide is pulled out and then either stored, or used again.