Wow: Viable Carbon Negative Concrete Could Soon Be Reality

Sarah Raines
In recent years, there has been growing concern over the environmental impact of concrete. The production is responsible for a significant portion of global carbon emissions, and its use contributes to the destruction of natural habitats and biodiversity.
Carbon Negative Concrete. Photo: Uve Sanchez | Unsplash

Concrete is one of the most widely used building materials on the planet, with a production rate of around 20 billion tons annually. However, the cement used in concrete production is responsible for approximately 5% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore, finding a solution to reduce the carbon footprint of concrete is crucial to the sustainability of the construction industry. Fortunately, a recent breakthrough in the field of material science has given rise to the possibility of carbon-negative concrete, a material that could potentially absorb more carbon than it emits during its production.

WSU’s Xianming Shi Leads Research On Biochar-Based Cement

Graduate student Zhipeng Li and Professor Xianming Shi. Photo: Tina Hilding | WSU INSIDER

A team of researchers led by Xianming Shi, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Washington State University, has developed a biochar-based cement that could be a game-changer in the field of sustainable construction. Biochar is a charcoal-like substance that is produced by burning organic material in the absence of oxygen. It is a highly porous material with a large surface area that can capture and store carbon dioxide.

The team’s approach involves adding biochar to the concrete mixture, which effectively replaces some of the cement content while also serving as a carbon sink. The biochar-based cement has shown excellent compressive strength and durability in lab tests, indicating its potential to be used in construction projects.

The Benefits Of Biochar-Based Cement

Climate change due to carbon emission. Photo: James Wheeler | Pexels

The biochar-based cement has several advantages over conventional cement, both in terms of its environmental impact and its performance. Firstly, using biochar as a cement replacement can reduce the carbon footprint of concrete production to a great extent. Moreover, the carbon dioxide that is absorbed by the biochar during its production remains trapped within the concrete, effectively removing it from the atmosphere.

In addition to its environmental benefits, the biochar-based cement also has superior mechanical properties compared to conventional cement. The researchers found that the addition of biochar significantly improved the concrete’s compressive strength. This could lead to the development of more resilient and durable structures that can withstand harsh environmental conditions.

Challenges And Future Prospects

Carbon Negative Cement. Photo: Rodolfo Quirós | Pexel

Despite the promising results, there are still several challenges that need to be addressed before biochar-based cement can be widely adopted. One of the main challenges is the scalability of the technology. The production of biochar is still relatively expensive and time-consuming, which could limit its widespread use. However, advancements in biochar production technology could help to reduce costs and increase production capacity.

Another challenge is the need for further testing to determine the material’s long-term performance and durability. While the researchers have demonstrated the material’s mechanical properties in lab tests, real-world conditions can be much harsher, and further testing is needed to ensure the material’s long-term viability.

The Potential For Commercialization

The development of a viable carbon-negative concrete could have a significant impact on the construction industry’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. The use of biochar-based cement could help to offset the emissions from cement production, effectively turning concrete into a carbon sink rather than a carbon source.

While the research is still in its early stages, there is considerable potential for commercialization of the biochar-based cement. The team has already filed a patent application for their technology and is working with industry partners to scale up production and test the material in real-world applications.


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