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A Simple Household Product Could Reduce Harmful Emissions From Concrete

The discovery could pave the way toward “a significant dent” in cement production’s carbon footprint, researchers say.

Bradford Randall

April 5, 2023

3 Min Read
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Bill Spengler/Alamy Stock Photo

Cement production is a dirty job, but a discovery from researchers at one of the top academic institutions in the U.S. may make it substantially cleaner.

Early research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Concrete Sustainability Hub suggests that the addition of baking soda could help to reduce emissions during cement production.

The findings from the school were announced in March on the university’s website.

Admir Masic, an associate professor of environmental and civil engineering at MIT, said in a release that the new discovery “advances the concept of multifunctional concrete by incorporating the added benefits of carbon dioxide mineralization during production and casting.”

In lab tests the MIT researchers demonstrated that by using sodium bicarbonate, otherwise known as baking soda, nearly 15% of carbon dioxide emissions became mineralized during production and casting.

The release said the discovery could pave the way toward “a significant dent” in cement production’s carbon footprint.

According to MIT, concrete that is created using sodium bicarbonate sets quickly without impacting the material’s performance.

“This process thus allows the construction industry to be more productive: Form works can be removed earlier, reducing the time required to complete a bridge or building,” the release stated.

MIT researchers said concrete that acts as a carbon sink is not new, but they claim the latest findings shed light on the potential of sequestration of carbon dioxide in concrete’s precuring phase.

“The problem with these postcuring carbonation reactions is that you disrupt the structure and chemistry of the cementing matrix that is very effective in preventing steel corrosion, which leads to degradation,” Masic said in the release.

The new research has the potential to eliminate the detrimental effects of carbon dioxide uptake, or absorption, in concrete.

Masic said the composite material that results from the addition of sodium bicarbonate “is an entirely new material.

“Through its formation, we can double the mechanical performance of the early-stage concrete,” he said. “While it is currently unclear how the formation of these new phases will impact the long-term performance of concrete, these new discoveries suggest an optimistic future for the development of carbon-neutral construction materials.”

The MIT research was sponsored by the Concrete Research and Education Foundation and the Portland Cement Association, which previously emphasized the need to utilize concrete as a carbon sink in its Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality by 2050, a blueprint for the industry’s sustainability.

“Achieving carbon neutrality across the entire value chain by 2050 will require industry development of an entirely new set of metrics, means and methods to track the industry’s Roadmap progress,” said Eric Holard, PCA Climate and Sustainability Council co-chair and U.S. CEO of National Cement Company, when the PCA’s Roadmap was released in October 2021. “Once we have established effective measurement, PCA companies are committed to transparently demonstrating progress.”

The MIT team emphasized that research is ongoing, but Masic said the findings could turn concrete “from being a problem to a part of the solution.

“Our new discovery could further be combined with other recent innovations in the development of lower carbon footprint concrete admixtures to provide much greener, and even carbon-negative, construction materials for the built environment,” he said.

About the Author(s)

Bradford Randall

Former Associate Editor, WOC360

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