Story at a glance
- Researchers are examining carbon emissions from using concrete in construction and its resulting effects on the environment.
- Engineers are developing concrete infused with carbon dioxide to make it stronger and bendable.
- Lawmakers in several states are exploring the use of “low embodied carbon concrete” in infrastructure projects.
Bendable concrete might seem counterintuitive. But the new material is actually stronger, able to withstand stress from heat and weather without cracking, and more durable than traditional concrete. And the secret ingredient is one that the world is currently trying to get rid of: carbon dioxide.
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“One of the big contributors to climate change is right beneath your feet, and transforming it could be a powerful solution for keeping greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere,” said researchers from the University of Michigan in a Washington Post editorial pitching bendable concrete and other CO2-infused cement mixes.
Engineers are infusing concrete with carbon dioxide in a new effort out of the university’s Center for Low Carbon Built Environment. Turning carbon from a gas to a mineral creates solid carbonates that make concrete stronger — with less cement. Cement is the main culprit of carbon dioxide emissions in concrete, one of the most-used resources on Earth, and accounted for 7 percent of total global carbon dioxide emissions in 2018, according to a report by the International Energy Agency.
Simply infusing CO2 into concrete, however, doesn't always make up for the total emissions from the process of capturing, transporting and using that carbon, researchers found. In a study, scientists from the University of Michigan determined that electricity use, the largest source of emissions during curing, could be reduced by streamlining the process and even reusing waste heat, but more research was necessary.
Still, “bendable concrete” has potential, and as the Biden administration commits to sustainable infrastructure, some researchers see it as a win-win solution.
"Nationally, the crumbling of federally managed infrastructure has been a steadily growing crisis. The Biden administration could start to address those problems, as well as climate change, and create jobs through a strategic infrastructure program," said the authors.
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