Brine May Be Key to Carbon-Free Cement

New York University Abu Dhabi researchers are exploring the possibility of using brine to manufacture a sustainable alternative to ordinary portland cement.

Kemal Celik, assistant professor of civil engineering at NYU Abu Dhabi, said reactive magnesium oxide, which can be derived from the residual brine in the seawater desalination process, is just as strong as portland cement but is more environmental friendly. 

Reactive magnesium oxide cement is produced at much lower temperatures than portland cement, “so factories wouldn’t burn as much fuel, and it’s carbon neutral,” Celik explained.

Additionally, the cement “absorbs carbon dioxide during the hardening process because its strength depends on it, and can continue to absorb carbon dioxide long after it has been mixed into the concrete, making it carbon negative.” 

“This kind of cement is not just environmentally sustainable but it’s also cost-efficient because desalination plants could start selling their waste to cement manufacturers, and profit from it. It’s a win-win situation for everybody,” Celik concluded.

Celik’s research team is currently collecting seawater from the Arabian Gulf to make test batches, and hope to start sourcing material from local desalination plants soon. The team will conduct further studies on what kind of internal reactions are taking place over the long-term that could impact the way the cement is used. Work is also ongoing to speed up the carbonation process.

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