• Tech Tech

Researchers find abundant mineral could produce greener concrete — here's what this could mean for future construction

"The carbon footprint of cement is currently huge."

"The carbon footprint of cement is currently huge."

Photo Credit: iStock

Experts at Imperial College London are adding a plentiful material to their cement mix that they report can capture and store air pollution — in abundance. 

The catalyst is olivine, a class of magnesium-rich, rock-forming mineral common in the Earth's upper mantle, according to Britannica. By substituting olivine for a material commonly called clinker, the mix was able to capture and store more planet-warming carbon dioxide as part of a strong and durable material. 

"The carbon footprint of cement is currently huge, so combining the production of a cement replacement material with carbon capture is a really innovative approach that has massive potential to decarbonize cement, concrete, and therefore construction," Professor Chris Cheeseman said in a college press release. 

It is widely reported that the cement/concrete industry makes up about 8% of the world's carbon pollution. The fumes, in part, are created when limestone is heated to make the cement-binding clinker. That's why replacing as much of it with a cleaner material is significant, according to a report on the science from TechXplore. 

The process description sounds well-suited for a lab. Silica and magnesium sulfate are extracted from olivine after being dissolved in sulfuric acid. Carbon dioxide was then bubbled through the mix. 

"... Which in turn led to the formation of a mineral called nesquehonite during cooling and resulted in sequestration of the CO2. The nesquehonite was then added to the cement mixture, along with some amount of clinker," all per TechXplore's report

Creating a cleaner cement mix has the focus of experts in labs around the world. Imperial's work isn't the first concept that involves using dirty carbon in the formula. Nova Scotia's CarbonCure Technologies' method injects the gas into concrete, for example. 

It's part of an overall shift in thinking about how our buildings are made and how they use energy. Even city planners are starting to incorporate smarter techniques that better use light, airflow, and other natural design concepts to make buildings more sustainable, lowering the pollution being produced. 

More sustainable cement could clean up the most commonly used material in the world: concrete. What's more, if 8% of the planet's air pollution were to be eliminated, hearts, minds, and all sorts of respiratory issues linked to poor air quality would improve. 

To see that vision fulfilled, the Imperial team members think that their process can capture air pollution surrounding cement plants — or when dirty fuels are burnt during the production process. Potentially, more air pollution could be safely stored than is produced, all per TechXplore. 

The project was boosted last summer with more than $1.2 million in funding from the United Kingdom government. Officials see this project, along with others that received related funding, as an investment in the future. 

"Our investment of over £80 million [around $102 million, for all project winners] will help them to go further and faster, using the latest science, technologies, and new energy sources to cut ties with fossil fuels and futureproof their industries," UK minister for energy security and net zero Graham Stuart said in the press release. 

Join our free newsletter for weekly updates on the coolest innovations improving our lives and saving our planet.

Cool Divider