A smaller carbon footprint for concrete manufacturers

UTA civil engineer explores upscaling carbon dioxide removal technologies

Tuesday, Nov 21, 2023 • Herb Booth : contact

Headshot of Warda Ashraf, UTA associate professor of civil engineering" _languageinserted="true

Warda Ashraf, associate professor of civil engineering at The University of Texas at Arlington, has received a grant to explore upscaling and commercializing her techniques to remove carbon dioxide created during cement production and store it back in concrete.

Ashraf was awarded a two-year, $549,986 Partnerships for Innovation grant from the National Science Foundation to develop novel bio-inspired chemical additives that will enhance carbon sequestration, mechanical performance and the longevity of concrete.

Ordinary Portland Cement, or OPC, is a commonly used ingredient in concrete, but it takes a great deal of energy to manufacture and has a large carbon footprint because of the carbon dioxide emitted during its manufacturing process. Bio-inspired chemical additives can be used to sequester carbon dioxide and improve the functionality of the concrete.

Ashraf’s process follows the traditional approach to concrete production using cement, sand and water, but adds chemicals in small portions, which leads to big changes in the concrete. Because concrete is so commonly used, even small changes to the ingredients can have significant effects on production costs and environmental impact.

“My previous research gave us promising data in a pure science environment. This project will show us how realistic the process is with different admixtures in real-world situations,” she said. “If we can prove it can perform equally well in a real situation, companies can drastically reduce their carbon footprint and their costs.”

Moving this process from the lab to more practical applications would require upscaling and commercialization of the bio-inspired additives, and Ashraf will work with several industry partners to determine the viability of the technology on a large scale, as well as any potential risks.

The project provides an excellent opportunity to work with industry and apply a lab discovery to a real-world setting, said Civil Engineering Department Chair Melanie Sattler.

“The results of Dr. Ashraf’s work in a controlled environment are encouraging,” said Sattler, who also holds the Dr. Syed Qasim Professorship. “Her new grant will allow her to perform intensive, fast-paced tests on her findings at scale to see how well they can be integrated in industry, and that could result in stronger, less expensive and more sustainable construction.”

- Written by Jeremy Agor, College of Engineering