Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute are advancing the development of concrete substitutes that are durable and better for the climate. Newly patented Enzymatic Construction Material (ECM) is not just friendlier to the environment then concrete: it actually sucks carbon out of the air. Here’s the scoop.
Understandably, it’s going to take some time for viable alternatives to widely replace concrete, but making progress matters. As Construction Dive reports, after water, concrete “is the most widely used substance on the planet,” and has a “massive environmental cost” due to the energy used to create it. Since concrete can’t be recycled, the extra energy ultimately required to eliminate it takes an environmental toll too. At Worcester Polytechnic, Suzanne Scarlata and Nima Rahbar are focused on “creating a low-energy building material to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.” Though their Enzymatic Construction Material (ECM) needs further development before it can be used on an apartment building, it can now be used on builds with lower loads, such as the side of a house. Progress is promising, as shared by Construction Dive:
Cement use and production accounts for about 8% of global CO2 emissions, according to a 2019 study from the National Academy of Sciences. An alternative building material like ECM could go a long way towards enabling a sustainable construction industry, according to the researchers.
ECM is made of carbonic anhydrase, an enzyme found in living cells. When it connects with CO2, it creates calcium carbonate crystals, ECM’s primary component. Other ingredients of the new mixture include sand slurry and polymer, a binding agent. The result is a material that can remove greenhouse CO2 from the air and safely store it, Scarlata and Rahbar said.
While concrete produces 400 lbs of CO2 per cubic yard, ECM holds about 18 lbs of CO2. In addition, the ECM recycling process is far less energy-consuming than concrete, the researchers said.
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Good To Know
From daylighting buried brooks in New York, to restoring clean water in the Great Lakes region, water infrastructure projects are getting underway across the country. As Forbes has reported, the federal infrastructure package contains two primary buckets of investments for our water system: $55 billion to replace all the nation’s lead pipes and service lines…; and, $48 billion for water infrastructure improvements. Specifically, $1 billion is slated to clean up the heavy industrial pollution in the Great Lakes region.
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