A team from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute has made a strong concrete-like material that soaks up carbon dioxide from the air when it is produced and later to heal itself if cracks form. It's secret is an enzyme found in red blood cells that absorbs CO2 from the air and produces calcium carbonate to build and later heal the material.
Mitigating climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the world’s population. Now, a team of researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute has developed an entirely new material that’s a low-cost, high-impact sustainable solution to address one of the largest contributors to climate change—concrete.
Forged with the help of enzymes, a new alternative to concrete pulls in carbon dioxide instead of releasing it (Matter 2022, DOI: 10.1016/j.matt.2021.12.020). The relatively strong material has self-healing properties and hardens in 24 h—much faster than traditional concrete, which takes nearly a month.
Behind only water, concrete is the second most widely used substance in the world. The 2.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide the cement industry produces every year leaves it responsible for 9% of the world’s CO2 pollution. If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest CO2 producer with only the USA and China releasing more.
Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) are using an enzyme found in red blood cells to create self-healing concrete that is four times more durable than traditional concrete, extending the life of concrete-based structures and eliminating the need for expensive repairs or replacements.
It looks a little like magic: When a crack forms in this new concrete, the material begins to fill in the gap itself. The process uses an enzyme found in red blood cells to make one of the most ubiquitous materials on the planet much more durable—and help shrink the concrete industry’s giant carbon footprint.