New Technology Could Help Reduce Concrete’s Carbon Footprint

Concrete is useful for making resilient floors, highway bridges, and city sidewalks. Still, it comes at a cost: Concrete production accounts for more than 8% of carbon emissions, about four times that of the aviation industry.

New Technology Could Help Reduce Concrete’s Carbon Footprint

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Greeshma Gadikota, a Croll Sesquicentennial Fellow and Associate Professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell Engineering, will guide an effort to decarbonize the concrete industry through the use of carbon dioxide capture and mineralization techniques to produce low-carbon construction materials.

The US Department of Energy will fund the $4 million project, part of President Joe Biden’s Clean Energy Plan.

Extensive carbon dioxide emissions during the whole process makes concrete one of the most carbon intensive products.

Greeshma Gadikota, Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University

The project’s principal investigator will be Gadikota. She works as a senior faculty fellow at Cornell University’s Atkinson Center for Sustainability.

This project requires us to lower the carbon intensity of concrete production by 60% or more. That’s a big challenge. If we can implement new technology at every concrete-making site, we’ll draw down the global contribution of carbon dioxide from as high as 10% to 4%. That’s a major cut.

Greeshma Gadikota, Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University

Gadikota intends to use the funding to develop integrated pathways for capturing carbon dioxide and transforming it into solid products, for which her team is well known for producing anthropogenic carbon dioxide-containing construction materials. Cornell Atkinson primarily funded this work with a 2023 Academic Venture Fund and a 2022 Fast Grant from the 2030 Project.

The DOE issued its Industrial Decarbonization Roadmap last year, identifying five domestic energy-intensive industries where reducing carbon dioxide can influence: cement and concrete, chemicals, food and beverage, iron and steel, and petroleum refining.

Concrete production necessitates large amounts of heat from sources such as coal and petroleum coke, also known as petcoke, which is derived from refining oil and emits more carbon dioxide than coal. According to the DOE, this combustion accounts for approximately 88% of total energy consumption in the sector.

Co-principal investigator Sriramya Nair, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and a faculty fellow at Cornell Atkinson, will work alongside Gadikota on the research project. Her work concentrates on the creation and characterization of new cementitious materials.

Costas Tsouris, Radu Custelcean, and Denise Antunes da Silva of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, are the other co-principal investigators.

The team will collaborate with industry partners Argos USA, Alpharetta, Georgia; Nucor Corporation, Auburn, New York; and Votorantim Cimentos North America, a cement supplier.

Gadikota stated that the investigators would illustrate the feasibility of the proposed technology at relevant industrial conditions with Argos USA while leveraging Votorantim Cimentos’ technical expertise in sustainable construction materials and using Nucor’s EAF slags—electric arc furnace slag, which is a byproduct produced during the steel-making process.

The bench-scale and pilot-scale methods developed through this project will inform full-scale implementation and commercialization of this new technology to decarbonize the cement industry.

Greeshma Gadikota, Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University

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