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Researchers Have A New Solution For Carbon Dioxide: Turn It Into Concrete

Carbon dioxide — some of it from power plants — is creating problems for the earth’s climate.

But so far, scientists have struggled to find an economically viable way to capture CO2 emissions before they’re released. Most of the research has focused on capturing the gas and sequestering it deep in the earth.

But a team of researchers at the University of California Los Angeles has another solution: capture the carbon dioxide and turn it into a concrete-like material that can be used for construction.

They’re calling it CO2NCRETE.

“What we need as a society is to find beneficial uses for what would otherwise be pollution, like these CO2 emissions, and to take these waste streams and to find ways of processing them into something that’s valuable,” said UCLA Public Policy Professor J.R. DeShazo.

That’s what he’s trying to do with his new concrete product. The process uses filters to capture the carbon dioxide, the scientists produce the new material, and then 3-D printers shape the concrete.

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

DeShazo said the concrete would have to be cost-effective so builders choose it over conventional concrete. And there would need to be careful coordination between those capturing the CO2 and those manufacturing the product.

“Otherwise, we’re going to have CO2 as a waste product on our hands, and we’ll be back into this dilemma of what do we do with it, do we bury it, do we landfill it,” DeShazo said.

He said the most economical approach would probably be to build the CO2 filters into power plants during construction, which would make this technology ideal for countries such as India and China, which are still building coal-fired power plants.

Ultimately, DeShazo said, the world is going to have to apply similar thinking to lots of sources of pollution as a broader sustainability strategy.

“We need to think about public policies that create the right incentives for both scientists and firms to look for these kinds of upcycling potentials," he said. "Instead of recycling our waste into a product, let’s find a way to make it even more valuable, if we can.”

The next step for the team behind CO2NCRETE is to try the technology on a larger scale. DeShazo said they hope to conduct a pilot test at a coal-fired power plant in Montana within the next 18 months.