Brief

Nanosheets made from vegetable waste can retain moisture and improve the binding ability of cement, according to researchers with Europe’s B-SMART project. The researchers also found they can create concrete that generates electricity by adding carrot nanosheets to cement.

 

Insight

Concrete is responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions and is the second most used substance in the world. Image credit – Harry Dona/Unsplash.

Concrete has become our building material of choice for countless structures such as bridges, towers and dams. But it also has a huge environmental footprint mostly due to carbon dioxide emissions from the production of cement – one of its main constituents. Researchers are now experimenting with root vegetables and recycled plastic in concrete to see whether this can make it stronger – and more sustainable – and even power streetlights or air pollution sensors.

After water, concrete is the most widely-used substance in the world. Producing cement, a key component of concrete, is responsible for about 8% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. It involves burning a lot of minerals, shells, shale and other components in kilns heated to about 1,400°C, where fossil fuels are typically used as an energy source, thus producing CO2 emissions.

In addition, producing clinker – small, solid lumps that are an intermediary product of cement – is the result of a high-temperature chemical reaction that is also energy intensive.

‘The cement industry is working on decarbonising and lowering the footprint from fossil fuels,’ said Dr Nikola Tošić, a researcher at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain. ‘But the chemical part of carbon dioxide emissions is inevitable unless we come up with (completely) different types of cement.’

By replacing a portion of cement with industrial waste such as fly ash, researchers hope to make concrete more sustainable. Image credit – Nikola Tošić.By replacing a portion of cement with industrial waste such as fly ash, researchers hope to make concrete more sustainable. Image credit – Nikola Toši.

 

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