What if cement could help save the planet? Thanks to this discovery, it might.

Earlier this year, a Swiss startup began removing CO2 from the atmosphere using a large vacuum-like machine.

Their ultimate goal is to start reversing the damaging effects of climate change by reducing CO2 — a major component of atmospheric pollution — on a global scale.

While the machine's development is a huge step forward, one little problem remains — where does all that collected CO2 go?


Gaurav Sant, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UCLA, has one solution: turn it into cement.

(And we're not just talking about any old cement.)

Gaurav Sant. Photo via UCLA.

Sant has figured out how to make a stronger, more lightweight, more structurally sound cement out of — wait for it — CO2.

Believe it or not, the regular construction of cement is responsible for 9% of the world's CO2 emissions. And it is widely accepted that CO2 emissions play a huge role in global warming and, by effect, climate change.

Sant, along with his team at UCLA, decided to try to turn two negatives into a positive. They found a way to integrate CO2 into the production of cement, thereby keeping it out of the atmosphere and upcycling it into something useful and even profitable.  

It all started from tiny cement cylinders created by Sant's 3D printer.

Sant with his 3D printer. Photo via UCLA.

Well, that and a pretty important discovery of how CO2 can help accelerate the cement-making process.

In simplest terms, Sant's team discovered that the CO2 in flue gas streams from coal and natural gas power plants accelerates the mineral-making processes that can be used to create cementing agents. They decided to use CO2 to produce a new type of concrete that they've named CO2NCRETETM.

Curious how they did that? Here's the breakdown.

When a mineral called portlandite absorbs CO2, it turns into limestone, which is a cementing agent. While this process normally takes years to happen naturally, Sant's team figured out how to make it happen quickly — 450 pounds of CO2 into several tons of CO2NCRETETM quickly — and efficiently using their 3D printer.

Unlike traditional cement-making on a construction site, 3D technologies allow them to create basic construction pieces out of their new CO2-based concrete that fit together perfectly.

This means they can make cement pieces that are stronger, more lightweight, and more structurally sound.

Sant with a fellow researcher creating cones of CO2NCRETETM. Photo via UCLA.

"As a child that played with Legos, I have long recognized that the idea of constructing buildings and infrastructure like a large Lego set is (a) fast, (b) intuitive, and, (c) offers improved quality control since 'factory made' pieces are simply assembled on site," Sant explains in an email.  

What sort of impact could this have on reducing global CO2 emissions? Turns out, a pretty big one.

Traditional concrete being poured. Photo by Circe Denyer/PublicDomainPictures.net.

According to Sant and his team, if CO2NCRETETM were to be mass-produced globally, it could reduce CO2 emissions from traditionally made cement by 50%. And since those emissions currently make up 9% of all CO2 emissions on the planet, that's no small amount.

What's more, since there's been little change made in the construction industry over the last two centuries, it's primed for an efficiency makeover.

"CO2NCRETETM has the potential to serve as an example of how CO2 emissions — even those associated with dilute CO2 streams — can be repurposed to create value and minimize environmental impact," writes Sant.

Photo by Robert Jones/Pixabay.

And it's not like this goal is a faraway dream. They've made incredible progress on this new cement and are starting to shop it around.

They've figured out how to streamline the cement-making process so it takes much less time and energy than it did initially. They've also done an analysis of the construction market and see huge potential for such a sustainable product.

"This is especially significant as jurisdictions, globally, including states and nations, seek to limit CO2 emissions and impose CO2 penalties on industrial processes," writes Sant.

And in terms of progress with CO2 capture, Sant's work could offer an economically viable alternative to storing the CO2 underground, which can get pretty expensive.

If the world recognizes the economic value of upcycled cement along with the environmental impact, this discovery could revolutionize the future of construction.

Photo by Pexels/Pixabay.

Engineering solutions like this can offer a way to mitigate climate change and be profitable at the same time. Now it's just about keeping an open mind and seeing the enormous potential in a small, concrete cylinder.

As for Sant and his associates, they're just thrilled to be on the precipice of real, necessary change.

"As humans, we all want to make positive impact," says Sant. "To be a part of the solution is a very empowering accomplishment that we wish to socialize."

Heroes
True
UCLA Optimists
via bfmamatalk / facebook

Where did we go wrong as a society to make women feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public?

No one should feel they have the right to tell a woman when, where, and how she can breastfeed. The stigma should be placed on those who have the nerve to tell a woman feeding her child to "Cover up" or to ask "Where's your modesty?"

Breasts were made to feed babies. Yes, they also have a sexual function but anyone who has the maturity of a sixth grader knows the difference between a sexual act and feeding a child.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Instagram / JLo

The Me Too movement has shed light on just how many actresses have been placed in positions that make them feel uncomfortable. Abuse of power has been all too commonplace. Some actresses have been coerced into doing something that made them uncomfortable because they felt they couldn't say no to the director. And it's not always as flagrant as Louis C.K. masturbating in front of an up-and-coming comedian, or Harvey Weinstein forcing himself on actresses in hotel rooms.

But it's important to remember that you can always firmly put your foot down and say no. While speaking at The Hollywood Reporter's annual Actress Roundtable, Jennifer Lopez opened up about her experiences with a director who behaved inappropriately. Laura Dern, Awkwafina, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong'o, and Renee Zellweger were also at the roundtable.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

Life for a shelter dog, even if it's a comfortable shelter administered by the ASPCA with as many amenities as can be afforded, is still not the same as having the comfort and safety of a forever home. Professional violinist Martin Agee knows that and that's why he volunteers himself and his instrument to help.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

Believe
True
Macy's