JR DeShazo, left, and Gaurav Sant with a sample of a new building material with which they want to replace concrete.

Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles have found a way to turn carbon dioxide emissions from power plants into a novel building material that could replace concrete.

The closed-loop process involves carbon dioxide being captured from the smokestacks of power plants and used to create a new building material named CO2NCRETE, which would be fabricated using 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 JR DeShazo, professor of public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.

He thinks the material will be a “game-changer for climate policy”, altering the economic incentives associated with power plant operation and turning CO2 into a resource used to build up cities.

“It takes what was a problem and turns it into a benefit in products and services that are going to be very much needed and valued in places like India and China,” he said.

Not only would the technology decrease emissions from power plants, but it would also reduce the carbon dioxide release during the production of concrete, which currently accounts for five per cent of the world’s carbon emissions.

Instead of storing the carbon, as the idea has been with carbon capture and storage programs, it would instead be used to synthesise something of value.

“The approach we are trying to propose is you look at carbon dioxide as a resource – a resource you can reutilise,” Gaurav Sant, associate professor and Henry Samueli Fellow in Civil and Environmental Engineering said.

“While cement production results in carbon dioxide, just as the production of coal or the production of natural gas does, if we can reutilise CO2 to make a building material which would be a new kind of cement, that’s an opportunity.”

Currently the new CO2NCRETE material has only been produced at lab scale, using 3D printers to shape it into tiny cones.

“We have proof of concept that we can do this,” DeShazo said. “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.”

Sant added: “We can demonstrate a process where we take lime and combine it with carbon dioxide to produce a cement-like material. 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.

“3D 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 5five centimetres long, we want to be able to print a beam that’s five metres long. The size scalability is a really important part.”

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  1. Pointless research if we’re moving away from fossil fueled power stations, however, it would be useful in removing carbon emissions from bio-feuled plants to make energy carbon negative.