Tackling global warming is the greatest challenge of the 21st century and researchers worldwide are investigating how to reduce our damaging impact on the planet. Power plants are one of the largest producers of carbon dioxide, but now that emission could turn from a problem to a resource.
An interdisciplinary team at UCLA have found a way to potentially reduce the amount of carbon emission from power plants by converting it into a new building material, named CO2NCRETE, which would be fabricated with 3D printers.
"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," said J.R. DeShazo, a professor of public policy at UCLA and one of the senior members of the team, in a statement.
This approach is an upgrade on carbon storing initiatives, which aim to sequester greenhouse gases before they are released into the atmosphere.
"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."
The extraction and preparation of building materials like concrete is responsible for 5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. And over 30 percent of CO2 is emitted by power plants, so achieving this type of carbon “upcycling” would significantly reduce carbon emissions.
"The approach we are trying to propose is you look at carbon dioxide as a resource – a resource you can reutilize," said Gaurav Sant, the lead scientific contributor. "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."
The technology has only been tested at a lab scale so far, using 3D printing technology to shape CO2NCRETE into tiny cones.
“We can demonstrate a process where we take lime and combine it with carbon dioxide to produce 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."