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WSU solidifies $3.2 million to form carbon-negative concrete

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(The Center Square) – A team at Washington State University has secured $3.2 million in funding for a carbon-neutral, more sustainable, potentially higher-quality form of concrete.

The research field could have an outsized impact as, according to a report by the Dutch government, cement accounts for up to 7% of global carbon emissions.

The funding comes from a recent Department of Energy grant worth $135 million, of which $16.4 million is under the heading “Decarbonizing Cement and Concrete.”

“America’s industrial sector serves as the engine of the U.S. economy, producing many of the products we rely on every day, but also produces a significant amount of the nation’s carbon emissions,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm in a news release accompanying the announcement.

Those $16.4 million in fund awards are spread across five projects, two of which are to private companies, and the remaining three of which go to Cornell University, University of Kentucky, and Washington State University in Pullman.

Funding for WSU’s portion is due in no small part to the research of graduate student Zhipeng Li under the guidance of Professor Xianming Shi at WSU’s Civil and Environmental Engineering department.

A research paper, due out in the July 1st edition of the journal Materials Letters, is titled “Towards sustainable industrial application of carbon-negative concrete” and describes a form of concrete that is not only good for climate change but has “enhanced strengths,” according to the abstract.

The new type of concrete is mostly made from other waste products.

To manufacture the carbon-negative concrete, Shi’s lab added a type of charcoal made from organic waste known as biochar.

That biochar has been strengthened with concrete wastewater, again conserving resource usage throughout the process.

“We’re committed to finding novel ways to divert waste streams to beneficial uses in concrete; once we identify those waste streams, the next step is to see how we can wave the magic wand of chemistry and turn them into a resource,” said Professor Shi to college publication the WSU Insider. “The trick is really in the interfacial engineering – how you engineer the interfaces in the concrete.”

This new form of concrete is expected to continue removing carbon from the atmosphere throughout its lifetime, typically between 30 and 75 years for infrastructure projects.

Washington U.S. Senator Patty Murray was also involved in the process of securing the funds.

“Decarbonizing our nation’s industrial sector is critical to achieving our climate goals,” said Senator Murray in a news release. “It’s exciting that Washington state is continuing to lead the way in innovative research to help us tackle the climate crisis—and I want to congratulate WSU for being among a select few to receive funding awards in this competitive grant process.”

The Center Square was unable to reach Professor Shi for comment.

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