Making concrete greener

Blank concrete space interior

Credit: Auris / Getty Images

EPSRC Early Career Fellow is developing low-carbon, sustainable alternatives to Portland cement, using industrial waste and by-products.

Concrete is the ‘unsung hero’ of our lives, forming the fabric of modern cities around the world. More than four billion tonnes of Portland cement, which is widely used to bind concrete, are produced each year.

However, the manufacturing process releases large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) with up to one tonne of carbon dioxide released for every tonne of cement.

Alkali-activated materials

Many waste and by-products from industry, mining and agricultural processes have no current commercial value, but are widely available throughout the world. If successful, production of low-carbon cements, such as alkali-activated materials, would turn them into a valuable resource.

However, despite this potential, the performance of alkali-activated materials in the field is unproven. Concrete needs to maintain its strength and integrity under challenging climate conditions over periods of decades or more.

Professor Bernal Lopez and her team at the University of Leeds are developing and studying low-carbon cements produced from simple industrial waste or by-products. Known as ‘alkali-activated cements’, the materials can be manufactured at room temperature and could reduce the CO2 emissions associated with the infrastructure sector by 40 to 80%.

Professor Bernal Lopez said:

It is important to continue supporting the creation and understanding of more eco-efficient materials for the development of our future built environment. This research could open a new pathway to building sustainable infrastructure for the future of the UK and worldwide, and play a key role in combating climate change.

Last updated: 16 March 2023

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