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Cambridge Scientists Pioneer Breakthrough in Zero-Carbon Cement
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Cambridge Scientists Pioneer Breakthrough in Zero-Carbon Cement

May 23, 2024

Cambridge, UK — May 23, 2024: In a groundbreaking development poised to revolutionize the construction industry, scientists from Cambridge University have unveiled a method to recycle cement from demolished concrete buildings, potentially leading to zero-carbon cement production.

Cement, the backbone of modern construction, is notorious for its high carbon emissions. Traditional cement production involves heating limestone to approximately 1600°C using fossil fuels, a process that emits significant amounts of CO2. This accounts for about 7.5% of global human-made CO2 emissions, positioning cement as a major contributor to climate change.

However, the Cambridge research team has discovered a novel approach to mitigate these emissions by leveraging waste heat from steel recycling processes. Typically, steel recycling employs electric arc furnaces and produces slag, a material that, intriguingly, shares a similar composition with used cement. By reactivating used cement in these high-temperature furnaces, the researchers have effectively decarbonized the cement-making process.

Cyrille Dunant, the lead scientist, emphasized the potential impact: “We have shown the high temperatures in the furnace reactivate the old cement, and because electric arc furnaces use electricity, they can be powered by renewable sources. This means the entire cement-making process can be decarbonized.”

The breakthrough was demonstrated at the Materials Processing Institute in Middlesbrough, where the first batch of high-grade “Portland” cement was successfully produced using this method. The Cambridge team has dubbed the product “electric cement.”

Mark Miodownik, Professor of Materials and Society at University College London, hailed the innovation as “genius,” highlighting its potential to drastically cut emissions if scalable. “Cement is already a billion-dollar industry. It’s David and Goliath we are talking about here,” he said to media.

In a significant next step, Spanish company Celsa will trial the process in its full-scale electric arc furnace in Cardiff. The Cambridge team estimates that current steel recycling rates could meet a quarter of the UK’s cement demand through this low-carbon method. As the adoption of electric arc furnaces grows, the production capacity for “electric cement” is expected to rise, with global replication offering a dramatic reduction in cement-related emissions.

This pioneering development not only presents a feasible pathway to sustainable construction but also marks a significant stride in global efforts to combat climate change.

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