Ucla team converts global warming gas CO2 into building material

The research needs to be upscaled for commercial application.

By capturing greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from power plants and turning it into a building material using 3D printing, researchers at UCLA Luskin are attempting an 'upcycling' to kill two climate enemies. Production of concrete from cement contributes to 5 percent of global CO2 while power plants emit a much larger amount of the gas, known to cause global warming.

"What this technology does is take something that we have viewed as a nuisance — carbon dioxide that's emitted from smokestacks — and turn it into something valuable," said J.R. DeShazo, professor of Public Policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.

Earlier attempts by researchers have only looked at capturing the gas from power plants and at the most burying it.

The new building material — CO2NCRETE —has been produced only at a lab scale, using 3D printers to shape it into tiny cones. The challenge lies in scaling it up and making it commercially viable., and also convincing stakeholders.

DeShazo has provided the public policy and economic guidance for this research. The scientific contributions have been led by Gaurav Sant, associate professor and Henry Samueli Fellow in Civil and Environmental Engineering; Richard Kaner, distinguished professor in Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Materials Science and Engineering; Laurent Pilon, professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Bioengineering; and Matthieu Bauchy, assistant professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

"We can demonstrate a process where we take lime and combine it with carbon dioxide to produce a cement-like material," Sant said. "The big challenge we foresee with this is we're not just trying to develop a building material. We're trying to develop a process solution, an integrated technology which goes right from CO2 to a finished product."

Taking 3D printing from the lab setting where resolution is important to construction scale is also a challenge, he admitted. The researchers are excited about what the work implies for reducing greenhouse gas across the world.

The month of February was the hottest on record registering a 1.5 deg rise in temperature over the pre-industrial period while average temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere breached the 2 degrees Celsius above "normal" mark for the first time in recorded history.

A two degree rise over pre-industrial era marks the point of no-return beyond which irreversible climate change is expected to affect the planet catastrophically.