Blog search results for Tag: carbon

Energy

Introduction

The Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge (IDC) is funded by UK government through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. One aim is to enable the deployment of low-carbon technology, at scale, by the mid-2020’s [1]. This challenge supports the Industrial Clusters Mission which seeks to establish one net-zero industrial cluster by 2040 and at-least one low-carbon cluster by 2030 [2]. This latest SCI Energy Group blog provides an overview of Phase 1 winners from this challenge and briefly highlights several on-going initiatives across some of the UK’s industrial clusters.

Phase 1 Winners

In April 2020, the winners for the first phase of two IDC competitions were announced. These were the ‘Deployment Competition’ and the ‘Roadmap Competition’; see Figure 1 [3].

 Phase 1 Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge

Figure 1 - Winners of Phase 1 Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge Competitions. For further information, click here

Teesside

Net-Zero Teesside is a carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) project. One aim is to decarbonise numerous carbon-intensive businesses by as early as 2030. Every year, up to 6 million tonnes of COemissions are expected to be captured. Thiswill be stored in the southern North Sea which has more than 1,000Mt of storage capacity. The project could create 5,500 jobs during construction and could provide up to £450m in annual gross benefit for the Teesside region during the construction phase [4].

For further information on this project, click here.

 Industrial Skyscape of Teesside Chemical Plants

Figure 2 – Industrial Skyscape of Teesside Chemical Plants

The Humber

In 2019, Drax Group, Equinor and National Grid signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which committed them to work together to explore the opportunities for a zero-carbon cluster in the Humber. As part of this initiative, carbon capture technology is under development at the Drax Power Station’s bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) pilot. This could be scaled up to create the world’s first carbon negative power-station. This initiative also envisages a hydrogen demonstrator project, at the Drax site, which could be running by the mid-2020s. An outline of the project timeline is shown in Figure 3 [5].

For further information on this project, click here.

 Overview of Timeline for Net-Zero Humber Project

Figure 3 - Overview of Timeline for Net-Zero Humber Project

North West

The HyNet project envisions hydrogen production and CCS technologies. In this project, COwill be captured from a hydrogen production plant as well as additional industrial emitters in the region. This will be transported, via pipeline, to the Liverpool Bay gas fields for long-term storage [6]. In the short term, a hydrogen production plant has been proposed to be built on Essar’s Stanlow refinery. The Front-End Engineering Design (FEED) is expected to be completed by March 2021 and the plant could be operational by mid-2024. The CCS infrastructure is expected to follow a similar timeframe [7].

For further information on the status of this project, click here.

Scotland

Project Acorn has successfully obtained the first UK COappraisal and storage licence from the Oil and Gas Authority. Like others, this project enlists CCS and hydrogen production. A repurposed pipeline will be utilised to transport industrial COemissions from the Grangemouth industrial cluster to St. Fergus for offshore storage, at rates of 2 million tonnes per year. Furthermore, the hydrogen production plant, to be located at St. Fergus, is expected to blend up to 2% volume hydrogen into the National Transmission System [8]. A final investment decision (FID) for this project is expected in 2021. It has the potential to be operating by 2024 [9].  

For further information on this project, click here.

 Emissions from Petrochemical Plant at Grangemouth

Figure 4 - Emissions from Petrochemical Plant at Grangemouth

SCI Energy Group October Conference

The chemistry of carbon dioxide and its role in decarbonisation is a key topic of interest for SCI Energy Group. In October, we will be running a conference concerned with this topic. Further details can be found here.

Sources: 

[1] https://www.ukri.org/innovation/industrial-strategy-challenge-fund/industrial-decarbonisation/

[2]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/803086/industrial-clusters-mission-infographic-2019.pdf

[3] https://www.ukri.org/news/ukri-allocates-funding-for-industrial-decarbonisation-deployment-and-roadmap-projects/

[4] https://www.netzeroteesside.com/project/

[5] https://www.zerocarbonhumber.co.uk/

[6]https://hynet.co.uk/app/uploads/2018/05/14368_CADENT_PROJECT_REPORT_AMENDED_v22105.pdf

[7]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/866401/HS384_-_Progressive_Energy_-_HyNet_hydrogen.pdf

[8]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/866380/Phase_1_-_Pale_Blue_Dot_Energy_-_Acorn_Hydrogen.pdf

[9] https://pale-blu.com/acorn/


Energy

Introduction

The Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge (IDC) is funded by UK government through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. One aim is to enable the deployment of low-carbon technology, at scale, by the mid-2020’s [1]. This challenge supports the Industrial Clusters Mission which seeks to establish one net-zero industrial cluster by 2040 and at-least one low-carbon cluster by 2030 [2]. This latest SCI Energy Group blog provides an overview of Phase 1 winners from this challenge and briefly highlights several on-going initiatives across some of the UK’s industrial clusters.

Phase 1 Winners

In April 2020, the winners for the first phase of two IDC competitions were announced. These were the ‘Deployment Competition’ and the ‘Roadmap Competition’; see Figure 1 [3].

 Phase 1 Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge

Figure 1 - Winners of Phase 1 Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge Competitions. For further information, click here

Teesside

Net-Zero Teesside is a carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) project. One aim is to decarbonise numerous carbon-intensive businesses by as early as 2030. Every year, up to 6 million tonnes of COemissions are expected to be captured. Thiswill be stored in the southern North Sea which has more than 1,000Mt of storage capacity. The project could create 5,500 jobs during construction and could provide up to £450m in annual gross benefit for the Teesside region during the construction phase [4].

For further information on this project, click here.

 Industrial Skyscape of Teesside Chemical Plants

Figure 2 – Industrial Skyscape of Teesside Chemical Plants

The Humber

In 2019, Drax Group, Equinor and National Grid signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which committed them to work together to explore the opportunities for a zero-carbon cluster in the Humber. As part of this initiative, carbon capture technology is under development at the Drax Power Station’s bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) pilot. This could be scaled up to create the world’s first carbon negative power-station. This initiative also envisages a hydrogen demonstrator project, at the Drax site, which could be running by the mid-2020s. An outline of the project timeline is shown in Figure 3 [5].

For further information on this project, click here.

 Overview of Timeline for Net-Zero Humber Project

Figure 3 - Overview of Timeline for Net-Zero Humber Project

North West

The HyNet project envisions hydrogen production and CCS technologies. In this project, COwill be captured from a hydrogen production plant as well as additional industrial emitters in the region. This will be transported, via pipeline, to the Liverpool Bay gas fields for long-term storage [6]. In the short term, a hydrogen production plant has been proposed to be built on Essar’s Stanlow refinery. The Front-End Engineering Design (FEED) is expected to be completed by March 2021 and the plant could be operational by mid-2024. The CCS infrastructure is expected to follow a similar timeframe [7].

For further information on the status of this project, click here.

Scotland

Project Acorn has successfully obtained the first UK COappraisal and storage licence from the Oil and Gas Authority. Like others, this project enlists CCS and hydrogen production. A repurposed pipeline will be utilised to transport industrial COemissions from the Grangemouth industrial cluster to St. Fergus for offshore storage, at rates of 2 million tonnes per year. Furthermore, the hydrogen production plant, to be located at St. Fergus, is expected to blend up to 2% volume hydrogen into the National Transmission System [8]. A final investment decision (FID) for this project is expected in 2021. It has the potential to be operating by 2024 [9].  

For further information on this project, click here.

 Emissions from Petrochemical Plant at Grangemouth

Figure 4 - Emissions from Petrochemical Plant at Grangemouth

SCI Energy Group October Conference

The chemistry of carbon dioxide and its role in decarbonisation is a key topic of interest for SCI Energy Group. In October, we will be running a conference concerned with this topic. Further details can be found here.

Sources: 

[1] https://www.ukri.org/innovation/industrial-strategy-challenge-fund/industrial-decarbonisation/

[2]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/803086/industrial-clusters-mission-infographic-2019.pdf

[3] https://www.ukri.org/news/ukri-allocates-funding-for-industrial-decarbonisation-deployment-and-roadmap-projects/

[4] https://www.netzeroteesside.com/project/

[5] https://www.zerocarbonhumber.co.uk/

[6]https://hynet.co.uk/app/uploads/2018/05/14368_CADENT_PROJECT_REPORT_AMENDED_v22105.pdf

[7]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/866401/HS384_-_Progressive_Energy_-_HyNet_hydrogen.pdf

[8]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/866380/Phase_1_-_Pale_Blue_Dot_Energy_-_Acorn_Hydrogen.pdf

[9] https://pale-blu.com/acorn/


Sustainability & Environment

In a recent paper published in Nature Climate Change, an international group of researchers are urging countries to reconsider their strategy to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. While countries signed up to the Paris Agreement have individual quotas to meet in terms of emissions reduction, they argue this cannot be achieved without global cooperation to ensure enough CO2 is removed in a fair and equitable way.

 harmful factory emissions

Harmful emissions

The team of international researchers from Imperial College London, the University of Girona, ETH Zürich and the University of Cambridge, have stated that countries with greater capacity to remove CO2 should be more proactive in helping those that cannot meet their quotas.

Co-author Dr Niall Mac Dowell, from the Centre for Environmental Policy and the Centre for Process Systems Engineering at Imperial, said, ‘It is imperative that nations have these conversations now, to determine how quotas could be allocated fairly and how countries could meet those quotas via cross-border cooperation.’

The team’s modelling and research has shown that while the removal quotas vary significantly, only a handful of countries will have the capacity to meet them using their own resources.

 reforestation

Reforestation

A few ways to achieve carbon dioxide removal:

(1)    Reforestation

(2)    Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)  

(3)    CCS coupled to bioenergy – growing crops to burn for fuel. The crops remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and the CCS captures any CO2 from the power station before its release.

However, deploying these removal strategies will vary depending on the capabilities of different countries. The team have therefore suggested a system of trading quotas. For example, due to the favourable geological formations in the UK’s North Sea, the UK has space for CCS, and therefore, they could sell some of its capacity to other countries.

 Global cooperation

Global cooperation 

Co-lead author Dr Carlos Pozo from the University of Girona, concluded; ‘By 2050, the world needs to be carbon neutral - taking out of the atmosphere as much CO2 as it puts in. To this end, a CO2 removal industry needs to be rapidly scaled up, and that begins now, with countries looking at their responsibilities and their capacity to meet any quotas.’

DOI:  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0802-4



Sustainability & Environment

Introduction

This latest SCI Energy Group blog introduces the possible avenues of carbon dioxide utilisation, which entails using carbon dioxide to produce economically valuable products through industrial processes. Broadly, utilisation can be categorised into three applications: chemical use, biological use and direct use. For which, examples of each will be highlighted throughout.

Before proceeding to introduce these, we can first consider utilisation in relation to limiting climate change. As has been discussed in previous blogs, the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions is crucial. Therefore, for carbon dioxide utilisation technologies to have a beneficial impact on climate change, several important factors must be considered and addressed.

1) Energy Source: Often these processes are energy intensive. Therefore, this energy must come from renewable resources or technologies.

2) Scale: Utilisation technologies must exhibit large scaling potential to match the limited timeframe for climate action.

3) Permanence: Technologies which provide permanent removal or displacement of CO2 emissions will be most impactful¹.

 CO2 sign

Figure 1: CO2 sign 

Chemical Uses

Carbon dioxide, alongside other reactants, can be chemically converted into useful products. Examples of which include urea, methanol, and plastics and polymers. One of the primary uses of urea includes agricultural fertilisers which are pivotal to crop nutrition. Most commonly, methanol is utilised as a chemical feedstock in industrial processes.

 Fertilizing soil

Figure 2: Fertilizing soil

One of the key challenges faced with this application of utilisation is the low reactivity of CO2 in its standard conditions. Therefore, to successfully convert it into products of economic value, catalysts are required to significantly lower the molecules activation energy and overall energy consumption of the process. With that being said, it is anticipated that, in future, the chemical conversion of CO2 will have an important role in maintaining a secure supply of fuel and chemical feedstocks such as methanol and methane².

Biological Uses

Carbon dioxide is fundamental to plant growth as it provides a source of required organic compounds. For this reason, it can be utilised in greenhouses to promote carbonic fertilisation. By injecting increased levels of COinto the air supplied to greenhouses, the yield of plant growth has been seen to increase. Furthermore, COfrom the flue gas streams of chemical processes has been recognised, in some studies, to be of a quality suitable for direct injection³.

 Glass greenhouse

Figure 3: Glass greenhouse planting vegetable greenhouses

These principles are applicable to encouraging the growth of microorganisms too. One example being microalgae which boasts several advantageous properties. Microalgae has been recognised for its ability to grow in diverse environments as well as its ability to be cultured in numerous types of bioreactors. Furthermore, its production rate is considerably high meaning a greater demand for CO2 is exhibited than that from normal plants. Micro-algal biomass can be utilised across a range of industries to form a multitude of products. These include bio-oils, fuels, fertilisers, food products, plant feeds and high value chemicals. However, at present, the efficiency of CO2 fixation, in this application, can be as low as 20-50%.

 Illustration of microalgae

Figure 4: Illustration of microalgae under the microscope

Direct Uses

It is important to note that, at present, there are many mature processes which utilise CO2 directly. Examples of which are shown in the table below.

 CO2 processes

Summary

Many carbon dioxide utilisation technologies exist, across a broad range of industrial applications. For which, some are well-established, and others are more novel. For such technologies to have a positive impact on climate action, several factors need to be addressed such as their energy source, scaling potential and permanence of removal/ displacement of CO2.

The chemistry of carbon dioxide and its role in decarbonisation is a key topic of interest for SCI Energy Group. In the near future, we will be running a webinar concerned with this. Further details of this will be posted on the SCI website in due course.

Links:

1. http://co2chem.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/CCU%20in%20the%20green%20economy%20report.pdf

2. https://www.carbonbrief.org/guest-post-10-ways-to-use-co2-and-how-they-compare

3. https://www.intechopen.com/books/greenhouse-gases 



Sustainability & Environment

Introduction

In November 2020, the UK is set to host the major UN Climate Change summit; COP26. This will be the most important climate summit since COP21 where the Paris Agreement was agreed. At this summit, countries, for the first time, can upgrade their emission targets through to 20301. In the UK, current legislation commits government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 100% of 1990 levels by 2050, under the Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment)2.

Hydrogen has been recognised as a low-carbon fuel which could be utilised in large-scale decarbonisation to reach ambitious emission targets. Upon combustion with air, hydrogen releases water and zero carbon dioxide unlike alternative heavy emitting fuels. The potential applications of hydrogen span across an array of heavy emitting sectors. The focus of this blog is to highlight some of these applications, and on-going initiatives, across the following three sectors: Industry, Transport and Domestic.

Please click (here3) to access our previous SCI Energy Group blog centred around UK COemissions.

 climate change activists

Figure 1: climate change activists 

Industry

Did you know that small-scale hydrogen boilers already exist?4

Through equipment modification, it is technically feasible to use clean hydrogen fuel across many industrial sectors such as: food and drink, chemical, paper and glass.

Whilst this conversion may incur significant costs and face technical challenges, it is thought that hydrogen-fuelled equipment such as furnaces, boilers, ovens and kilns may be commercially available from the mid-2020’s4.

 gas hydrogen peroxide boiler line vector icon

Figure 2:  gas hydrogen peroxide boiler line vector icon

Domestic

Did you know that using a gas hob can emit up to or greater than 71 kg of COper year?5

Hydrogen could be supplied fully or as a blend with natural gas to our homes in order to minimise greenhouse gas emissions associated with the combustion of natural gas.

As part of the HyDeploy initiative, Keele University, which has its own private gas network, have been receiving blended hydrogen as part of a trial study with no difference noticed compared to normal gas supply6.

Other initiatives such as Hydrogen 1007 and HyDeployare testing the feasibility of delivering 100% hydrogen to homes and commercial properties.

 gas burners

Figure 3: gas burners

Transport

Did you know that, based on an average driving distance of approximately 11,500 miles per annum, an average vehicle will emit approximately 4.6 tonnes of COper year?9

In the transport sector, hydrogen fuel can be utilised in fuel cells, which convert hydrogen and oxygen into water and electricity.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are already commercially available in the UK. However, currently, form only a small percentage of Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) uptake10.

Niche applications of hydrogen within the transport sector are expected to show greater potential for hydrogen such as buses and trains. Hydrogen powered buses are already operational in certain parts of the UK and hydrogen trains are predicted to run on British railways from as early as 202211.

 h2 combustion engine

Figure 4:  h2 combustion engine for emission free ecofriendly transport

Summary

This blog gives only a brief introduction to the many applications of hydrogen and its decarbonisation potential. The purpose of which, is to highlight that hydrogen, amongst other low-carbon fuels and technologies, can play an important role in the UK’s transition to net-zero emissions.

Stay tuned for further SCI Energy Group blogs which will continue to highlight alternative low-carbon technologies and their potential to decarbonise.

Links to References:

1. https://eciu.net/briefings/international-perspectives/cop-26

2. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2019/9780111187654

3. https://www.soci.org/blog/2019-08-09-Understanding-UK-Carbon-Dioxide-Emissions/

4. http://www.element-energy.co.uk/2020/01/hy4heat-wp6-has-shown-that-switching-industrial-heating-equipment-to-hydrogen-is-technically-feasible-with-large-potential-to-support-initiation-of-the-hydrogen-economy-in-the-2020s/

5. https://www.carbonfootprint.com/energyconsumption.html

6. https://hydeploy.co.uk/hydrogen/

7. https://sgn.co.uk/about-us/future-of-gas/hydrogen/hydrogen-100

8. https://www.hy4heat.info/

9. https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/greenhouse-gas-emissions-typical-passenger-vehicle

10. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/794473/veh0202.ods

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/cars/news/hydrogen-fuel-cell-trains-run-british-railways-2022/


Careers

This latest instalment of SCI Energy Group’s blog delves deeper into the working life of another one of its own members – Peter Reineck.

Peter is currently a consultant working alongside technology developers. Throughout this article, he shares insights into his career to date.

 Peter Reineck

Figure 1- Peter Reineck

Peter, can you please provide a brief introduction about yourself? 

I worked with a number of chemical and environmental service companies in the UK and Canada in commercial operations roles.

I now work as a consultant with technology developers to support market and business development.

Can you please explain how your job is aligned with the energy sector? 

I have a particular interest in advanced combustion systems with CO2 capture.

Most recently, I became involved in a new project to produce bio-based plastic that would replace fossil-based plastics in packaging and other applications.

Bio-based plastic has the advantage of producing biogenic CO2 if composted or sent for energy recovery at end of life.

In your current role, what are your typical day-to-day tasks?

Typically, my work involves communicating with stakeholders by phone and email and in meetings, assessing their responses and planning developments accordingly.

 chemicals in vials

Figure 2 - A knowledge of science is particularly helpful

How has your education/previous experience prepared you for this role?

I would say that English language skills and a knowledge of science and chemistry in particular have been the most helpful in my career.

What is your favourite aspect of your current job role?

Consultancy works well for me as the focus is on business development activities; as well, the hours are flexible.

What is the most challenging part of your job? 

A high degree of self-discipline is required in order to meet deadlines.

So far, what is your biggest accomplishment/ achievement throughout your career? 

The most satisfying were moving a number of businesses forward into new markets and applications.

 hourglass

Figure 3 - Self-discipline is required to meet deadlines

In your opinion, what do you think is the biggest problem faced in this field of work at present? 

I think the biggest problem is regulatory changes which affect the potential market for new technologies for packaging and power generation.

These changes are governmental responses to activist claims which are not based on a holistic interpretation of a complete set of data.

What advice would you give someone who is seeking / about to enter the same field of work? 

A practical understanding of science and statistics is essential. Combined with, an ability to translate new technologies into solutions which are economically viable.


Energy

Having previously explored the various ways in which energy is supplied in the UK, this article highlights UK energy consumption by fuel type and the sectors it is consumed in. 

national grid

But before proceeding, it is important to first distinguish between the terms ‘primary energy consumption’ and ‘final energy consumption’. The former refers to the fuel type in its original state before conversion and transformation. The latter refers to energy consumed by end users.

Primary energy consumption by fuel type

 oil rig

Oil consumption is on the decline.

In 2018, UK primary energy consumption was 193.7 m tonnes of oil equivalent. This value is down 1.3% from 2017 and down 9.4% from 2010. This year, the trend has continued so far. Compared to the same time period last year, the first three months of 2019 have shown a declination of 4.4% in primary fuel consumption.

It is also important to identify consumption trends for specific fuels. Figure 1 below illustrates the percentage increases and decreases of consumption per fuel type in 2018 compared to 2017 and 2010.

 

Figure 1 shows UK Primary Energy Consumption by Fuel Type in 2018 Compared to 2017 & 2010. Figure: BEIS. Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

As can be seen in 2018, petroleum and natural gas were the most consumed fuels. However, UK coal consumption has dropped by almost 20% since 2017 and even more significantly since 2010. But perhaps the most noticeable percentage change in fuel consumption is that of renewable fuels like bioenergy and wind, solar and hydro primary electricity. 

In just eight years, consumption of these fuels increased by 124% and 442%, respectively, thus emphasising the increasingly important role renewables play in UK energy consumption and the overall energy system.

Final energy consumption by sector

Overall, the UK’s final energy consumption in 2018, compared to 2017, was 0.7% higher at a value of approximately 145 m tonnes of oil equivalent. However, since 2010, consumption has still declined by approximately 5%. More specifically, figure 2 illustrates consumption for individual sectors and how this has changed since.

 uk energy consumption statistics 2

Figure 2 from UK Final Energy Consumption by Sector in 2018 Compared to 2017 & 2010. Figure: BEIS. Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

Immediately, it is seen that the majority of energy, consumed in the UK, stems from the transport and domestic sector. Though the domestic sector has reduced consumption by 18% since 2010, it still remains a heavy emitting sector and accounted for 18% of the UK’s total carbon dioxide emissions in 2018. 

Therefore, further efforts but be taken to minimise emissions. This could be achieved by increasing household energy efficiency and therefore reducing energy consumption and/or switching to alternative fuels.

 loft insulation

Loft insulation is an example of increasing household energy efficiency.

Overall, since 2010, final energy consumption within the transport sector has increased by approximately 3%. In 2017, the biggest percentage increase in energy consumption arose from air transport. 

Interestingly, in 2017, electricity consumption in the transport sector increased by 33% due to an increased number of electric vehicles on the road. Despite this, this sector still accounted for one-third of total UK carbon emissions in 2018.  

 electric vehicle charging

Year upon year, the level of primary electricity consumed from renewables has increased and the percentage of coal consumption has declined significantly, setting a positive trend for years to come.


Energy

Energy is critical to life. However, we must work to find solution to source sustainable energy which compliments the UK’s emission targets. This article discusses six interesting facts concerning the UK’s diversified energy supply system and the ways it is shifting towards decarbonised alternatives.

Finite Resources

1. In 2015, UK government announced plans to close unabated coal-fired power plants by 2025.

 A coalfired power plant

A coal-fired power plant 

In recent years, energy generation from coal has dropped significantly. In March 2018, Eggborough power station, North Yorkshire, closed, leaving only seven coal power plants operational in the UK. In May this year, Britain set a record by going one week without coal power. This was the first time since 1882!

2. Over 40% of the UK’s electricity supply comes from gas.

 A natural oil and gas production in sea

A natural oil and gas production in sea

While it may be a fossil fuel, natural gas releases less carbon dioxide emissions compared to that of coal and oil upon combustion. However, without mechanisms in place to capture and store said carbon dioxide it is still a carbon intensive energy source.

3. Nuclear power accounts for approximately 8% of UK energy supply.

hazard gif

Originally posted by konczakowski

Nuclear power generation is considered a low-carbon process. In 2025, Hinkley Point C nuclear power-plant is scheduled to open in Somerset. With an electricity generation capacity of 3.2GW, it is considerably bigger than a typical power-plant.

Renewable Resources

In 2018, the total installed capacity of UK renewables increased by 9.7% from the previous year. Out of this, wind power, solar power and plant biomass accounted for 89%.

4. The Irish Sea is home to the world’s largest wind farm, Walney Extension.

 The Walney offshore wind farm

The Walney offshore wind farm.

In addition to this, the UK has the third highest total installed wind capacity across Europe. The World Energy Council define an ‘ideal’ wind farm as one which experiences wind speed of over 6.9 metres per second at a height of 80m above ground. As can be seen in the image below, at 100m, the UK is well suited for wind production.

5. Solar power accounted for 29.5% of total renewable electricity capacity in 2018.

 solar panels

This was an increase of 12% from the previous year (2017) and the highest amount to date! Such growth in solar power can be attributed to considerable technology cost reductions and greater average sunlight hours, which increased by up to 0.6 hours per day in 2018. 

Currently, the intermittent availability of both solar and wind energy means that fossil fuel reserves are required to balance supply and demand as they can run continuously and are easier to control.

6. In 2018, total UK electricity generation from bioenergy accounted for approximately 32% of all renewable generation.

 A biofuel plant in Germany

A biofuel plant in Germany.

This was the largest share of renewable generation per source and increased by 12% from the previous year. As a result of Lynemouth power station, Northumberland, and another unit at Drax, Yorkshire, being converted from fossil fuels to biomass, there was a large increase in plant biomass capacity from 2017.


Sustainability & Environment

This is the first in a series of blog articles by SCI’s Energy group. As a group, they recognise that the energy crisis is a topic of large magnitude and therefore have set out to identify potential decarbonisation solutions across multiple dimensions of the overall energy supply chain, which include source, system, storage and service.

 wind turnbine

Throughout the series, you will be introduced to its members through regular features that highlight their roles and major interests in energy. We welcome you to read their series and hope to spark some interesting conversation across all areas of SCI.


Global emissions

 factory burning fossil fuels

The burning of fossil fuels is the biggest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), by the end of 2018, their observatory at Muana Loa, Hawaii, recorded the fourth-highest annual growth of global CO2 emissions the world has seen in the last 60 years.

Adding even more concern, the Met Office confirmed that this trend is likely to continue and that the annual rise in 2019 could potentially be larger than that seen in the previous two years.

 atmospheric co2 data

Forecast global CO2 concentration against previous years. Source: Met Office and contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

Large concentrations of COin the atmosphere are a major concern because it is a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases absorb infrared radiation from solar energy from the sun and less is emitted back into space. Because the influx of radiation is greater than the outflux, the globe is warmed as a consequence.

Although CO2 emissions can occur naturally through biological processes, the biggest contributor to said emissions is human activities, such as fossil fuel burning and cement production.

 co2 emissions data

Increase of CO2 emissions before and after the Industrial Era. Source: IPCC, AR5 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2014, Fig. 1.05-01, Page. 3


Climate Change

 field

Weather impacts from climate change include drought and flooding, as well as a noticeable increase in natural disasters.

This warming has resulted in changes to our climate system which has created severe weather impacts that increase human vulnerability. One example of this is the European heat wave and drought which struck in 2003. 

The event resulted in an estimated death toll of over 30,000 lives and is recognised as one of the top 10 deadliest natural disasters across Europe within the last century.

In 2015, in an attempt to address this issue, 195 nations from across the globe united to adopt the Paris Agreement which seeks to maintain a global temperature rise of well below 2C, with efforts to  limit it even further to 1.5C.

 

 

The Paris Climate Change Agreement explained. Video: The Daily Conversation  

In their latest special report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) explained that this would require significant changes in energy, land, infrastructure and industrial systems, all within a rapid timeframe.

In addition, the recently published Emissions Gap report urged that it is crucial that global emissions peak by 2020 if we are to succeed in meeting this ambitious target.


Are we further away then we think?

 co2 graphic

As well as the Paris Agreement, the UK is committed to the Climate Change Act (2008) which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 relative to 1990 baseline levels. Since 1990, the UK has cut emissions by over 40%, while the economy has grown by 72%.

To ensure that we meet our 2050 target, the government has implemented Carbon Budgets, which limit the legal emissions of greenhouse gases within the UK across a five-year period. Currently, these budgets run up to 2032 and the UK is now in the third budget period (2018-2022).

cars gif

Originally posted by worldoro

The UK has committed to end the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

At present, the UK is on track to outperform both the second and third budget. However, it is not on track to achieve the fourth budget target (2023-2027). To be able to meet this, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) urge that UK emissions must be reduced annually by at least 3% from this point forward.

We may not be sure which technologies will allow such great emission reductions, but one thing is for certain – decarbonisation is essential, and it must happen now!

 

Materials

2019 has been declared by UNESCO as the Year of the Periodic Table. To celebrate, we are releasing a series of blogs about our favourite elements and their importance to the chemical industry. Today’s blog is about one of the most abundant and most used elements, carbon!

Carbon-based life

Carbon could be called the element of life – it can be found in every living creature on Earth in a variety of different forms, from the backbone of your DNA, to the taste receptors in your tongue and the hormones controlling your hunger. Carbon-based chemistry surrounds us – in the air we breathe, in the food we eat and in the soil beneath our feet.

So, why is carbon so important to life? Carbon’s chemistry allows it to form large, intricate 3D structures, which are the basis of its interaction in biology – like jigsaw pieces that come together to build a tree, an elephant or a human being.

blossoming flower gif

Originally posted by sun-moon-and-roses

The study of carbon-based chemistry, or organic chemistry, has allowed us to better understand our living world and the interactions that occur, leading to development of better tasting food, higher yielding crops and more efficient medicines to improve our health. 

In the early 19th century, chemist Justus von Liebig began synthesising organic, carbon-based molecules and said: ‘The production of all organic substances no longer belongs just to living organisms.’ 

Since then, hundreds of organic compounds for medicinal use have been synthesised – from adrenaline to ibuprofen – and hundreds of unique synthesis pathways have been described.

 carbon

Organic chemistry – the study of carbon-based chemistry – has given us hundreds of modern medicines. 


Carbon in materials

Atoms of carbon can make four bonds, each with another carbon attached, to arrange themselves into different molecular structures and form completely different substances. These molecular structures, known as allotropes, can result in vast differences in the end-result material. 

For example, one allotrope, diamond, is the hardest and highest thermally conductive of any natural material, whereas another, graphite, is soft enough to be used in pencils, and is highly conductive of electricity.

Graphene is carbon allotrope that exists in thin, 2-dimensional layers, with the carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb formation. Scientists had theorised its existence for years, but it was not isolated and characterised until 2004 by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester, UK. The pair won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work. 

 carbon atoms in graphene

The structure of carbon atoms in graphene.

Graphene is a highly conductive, flexible and transparent – this means it can be used in electronics, medical biotechnology, and a variety of other innovative solutions.

Another innovative material made from carbon is carbon fibre, which can then produce carbon-fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP). CFRP is a polymer interwoven with fibres of carbon, which is 5-10μm in diameter. The mixture of these two materials gives an extremely strong but lightweight material, useful in building products from aerospace and automotive, to sports equipment and technology.


Fueling the world

The name carbon comes from the Latin carbo meaning coal, and until recently most of our energy was generated by the consumption of carbon through the burning of naturally occurring carbon-based fuels, or fossil fuels. When these fuels, such as coal, natural gas and oil, are burnt, the combustion reaction generates carbon dioxide (CO2). 

 burning fossil fuels

CO2, produced by burning fossil fuels, is thought to be a contributor to climate change. Image: Pixabay

High production of the by-product CO2, and its release into the atmosphere, is considered to have a negative environmental impact and is thought to contribute to global warming and climate change. Fossil fuels are not a renewable resource and supplies are expected to diminish in the next 50-100 years. 

Consequently, there has been a movement towards more renewable energy, from wind, solar and hydropower, driving a move towards a low-carbon economy. These energy sources are generally considered to be better for the environment, with lower amounts of CO2 being produced.

Chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox previews some amazing technology to scrub carbon from the air, using chemical reactions that capture and reuse CO2. Video: TED

In this strive for a low-carbon economy, new technology is being used that prevents the release of COinto the atmosphere in the first place. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) takes waste COfrom large-scale industrial processes and transports it to a storage facility. This CCS technology is one of the only proven, effective methods of decarbonisation currently available.



Sustainability & Environment

The UK’s efforts to move towards clean energy can be seen around the UK, whether it’s the wind turbines across the hills of the countryside or solar panels on the roofs of city skyscrapers. There is, however, a technology that most people will never see, and it is set to be one of the biggest breakthroughs in a low-carbon economy yet.

Deep in the North Sea are miles of offshore pipelines, once used to transport natural gas to the UK. The pipelines all lead to a hub called the St Fergus Gas Terminal – a gas sweetening plant used by industry – that sits on the coast of north-east Scotland.

 St Fergus Gas Terminal in NorthEast Scotland

St Fergus Gas Terminal in North-East Scotland. 

This network has now been reimagined as a low-cost, full-chain carbon capture, transport and offshore storage that will provide the UK will a viable solution to permanent carbon capture and storage (CCS) called the Acorn project.

CCS is a process that takes waste CO2 produced by large-scale, usually industrial, processes and transports it to a storage facility. The site, likely to be underground, stops the waste CO2 from being released into the atmosphere, storing it for later use for another purpose, such as the production of chemicals for coatings, adhesives or jet fuel.

Carbon Capture Explained | How It Happens. Video: The New York Times  

High levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have been linked to global warming and the damaging effects of climate change, and CCS is one of the only proven solutions to decarbonisation that industry can currently access.

Taking advantage of existing infrastructure means that the Acorn project is running at a much lower cost and risk to comparable projects and is expected to be up and running by 2023. It is hoped the project will bring competitiveness and job retention and creation across the UK, particularly in the industrial centres of Scotland.  


Energy

Engineers say they have demonstrated a cost-effective way to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The extracted  CO2 could be used to make new fuels or go to storage.

The process of direct air capture (DAC) involves giant fans drawing ambient air into contact with an aqueous solution that traps CO2 . Through heating and several chemical reactions, CO2 is re-extracted and ready for further use.

‘The carbon dioxide generated via DAC can be combined with sequestration for carbon removal, or it can enable the production of carbon-neutral hydrocarbons, which is a way to take low-cost carbon-free power sources like solar or wind and channel them into fuels to decarbonise the transportation sector,’ said David Keith, founder of Carbon Engineering, a Canadian clean fuels enterprise, and a Professor of Physics at Harvard University, US.

Fuel from the Air – Sossina Haile. Video: TEDx Talks

DAC is not new, but its feasibility has been disputed. Now, Carbon Engineering reports how its pilot plant in British Columbia has been using standard industrial equipment since 2015. Keith’s team claims that a 1 Mt- CO2 /year DAC plant will cost $94-$232/ton of  CO2 captured. Previous theoretical estimates have ranged up to $1000/ton.

Energy

Renewables outstripped coal power for the first time in electricity generation in Europe in 2017, according to a new report. The European Power Sector in 2017 – by think-tanks Sandbag and Agora Energiewende – predicts renewables could provide half of Europe’s electricity by 2030.

Wind, solar and biomass generation collectively rose by 12% in 2017 – to 679 Terawatt hours  – generating 21% of Europe’s electricity and contributing to 30% of the energy mix. ‘This is incredible progress considering just five years ago coal generation was more than twice that of wind, solar and biomass,’ the report says.

image

Hydroelectric power is the most popular renewable energy source worldwide. Image: PxHere

However, growth is variable. The UK and Germany alone contributed to 56% of the expansion in the past three years. There is also a ‘bias’ for wind, with a 19% increase in 2017, due to good wind conditions and huge investments, the report says. 

‘This is good news now the biomass boom is over, but bad news in that solar was responsible for just 14% of the renewables growth in 2014 to 2017.’

New analysis by trade group WindEurope backs up the findings on wind power, showing that countries across Europe installed more offshore capacity than ever before: 3.14GW. This corresponds to 560 new offshore wind turbines across 17 wind farms. Fourteen projects were fully completed and connected to the grid, including the first floating offshore wind farm. Europe now has a total installed offshore wind capacity of 15.78GW.

The EU’s 2030 goals for climate and energy. Video: European Commission 

Germany remains top of the European league, with the largest total installed wind-power capacity; worth 42% of the EU’s new capacity in 2017, followed by Spain, the UK, and France. Denmark boasts the largest share of wind in its power mix at 44% of electricity demand.

Sustainability & Environment

Researchers at the University of Waterloo, Canada, have developed an innovative method for capturing renewable natural gas from cow and pig manure for use as a fuel for heating homes, powering industry, and even as a replacement for diesel fuel in trucks.

It is based on a process called methanation. Biogas from manure is mixed with hydrogen, then run through a catalytic converter, producing methane from carbon dioxide in the biogas through a chemical reaction.

 A biogas plant

A biogas plant. Image: Pixabay

The researchers claim that power could be taken from the grid at times of low demand or generated on-site via wind or solar power to produce the hydrogen. 

The renewable natural gas produced would yield a large percentage of the manure’s energy potential and efficiently store electricity, while emitting a fraction of the gases produced when the manure is used as a fertiliser.

‘The potential is huge,’ said David Simakov, Professor of Chemical Engineering at Waterloo. 'There are multiple ways we can benefit from this single approach.’

See a Farm Convert Pig Poop Into Electricity. Video: National Geographic

Using a computer model of a 2,000-head dairy farm in Ontario, which already collects manure and converts it into biogas in anaerobic digesters before burning it in generators, the researchers tested the concept. 

They estimated that a $5-million investment in a methanation system would have a five-year payback period, taking government subsidies for renewable natural gas into account.

'This is how we can make the transition from fossil-based energy to renewable energy using existing infrastructure, which is a tremendous advantage,’ Simakov said.

Sustainability & Environment

The Haber process currently helps feed more than half the world, producing 150m tonnes of ammonia a year. This is forecast to rise further, in line with the food demand of a growing world population.

And yet, it has serious drawbacks. In its traditional form, the process requires high temperatures – around 500°C – to make the extremely stable molecule nitrogen reactive.

fire gif

Originally posted by foreverfallll

The Haber process takes place at extremely high temperatures, similar to that of an average fire.

It also needs high pressure to shift the equilibrium towards the desired product. The process is sensitive to oxygen, meaning that nitrogen and hydrogen must be introduced as purified elements, rather than as air and water.

These requirements together make the process extremely energy-hungry; estimated to consume between 1% and 2% of global primary energy production. In 2010, the ammonia industry emitted 245m tonnes of CO2 globally, corresponding to half the UK’s emissions. 

 Carl Bosch

The Haber process was developed by Carl Bosch (left) and Fritz Haber (right) in the early 20th century. Image: Wikimedia Commons

In nature, the process relies on the highly complex enzyme nitrogenase, operating at an ambient pressure and temperature. But using the entire biological system would not be economical for large-scale industrial synthesis, and thus the search for an inorganic system that matches the performance of the biological has become an important challenge.  

In recent years, novel electrochemical approaches and new catalysts have yielded promising results suggesting that, at least for small-scale synthesis, other ways may have a future.

The chemical reaction that feeds the world. Video: TED-Ed  

‘The last [few] years brought some spectacular results on ammonia synthesis research,’ comments Hans Fredriksson from Syngaschem at Eindhoven, Netherlands.

‘On the catalyst side, there is the discovery of ‘super promoters’, helping N2 dissociation, allowing lower process temperatures, while optimised catalyst formulations yield significant improvements in activity. 

‘Perhaps even more exciting are new approaches in processing, for example by electrochemistry, or simply running the reaction in an electric field, or bringing plasmas into play,’ he said.

electricity gif

Originally posted by mondo80s90spictorama

In 2013, Shanwen Tao, then at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK, and colleagues demonstrated for the first time the production of ammonia from air and water, at ambient temperature and pressure, using a proton-conducting Nafion membrane in an electrochemical approach. 

Nafion, a Teflon-like material that conducts cations but neither electrons nor anions, is also used in fuel cells. 

‘Electrochemical synthesis of ammonia is an important new approach for efficient synthesis of ammonia using green renewable electricity as the energy source. This could be a key technology for a possible ‘ammonia economy’,’ where ammonia replaces or complements hydrogen as an energy carrier, says Tao.

 renewable energy

Researchers hope new approaches will be supported by renewable energy, reducing CO2 emissions. Image: Pexels

Separate efforts using different routes are being developed in Japan, with a particular focus on ruthenium as an efficient catalyst. One approach is to apply super promoters to provide electrons that destabilise nitrogen by weakening the triple bond and making the molecule more reactive for ammonia synthesis.

This was first reported in 2012 by Hideo Hosono’s group at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, who used ruthenium catalysts in combination with ‘electrides’ – a new class of ionic materials where electrons serve as the anions.

The method operates at atmospheric pressure and temperatures between 250 and 400°C, and hydrogen poisoning of ruthenium catalysts is no longer a problem.

 Ruthenium

Ruthenium is a type of metal in the platinum group. Image: Metalle-w/      Wikimedia Commons

‘This catalyst exhibits the highest activity and excellent long-term stability,’ says Hosono, who sees the future of his methods in distributed, small-scale applications of ammonia synthesis.

Hans Niemantsverdriet, director of SynCat@Beijing, China, acknowledges the rapid progress being made, but also strikes a note of caution.

‘In spite of interesting discoveries, I find it hard to imagine that these improvements will be able to replace the current large-scale and fully optimised technology,’ he says. ‘In the fertiliser area, novel technology will at best become a niche market for very special situations. Also, the CO2 footprint is hardly diminished.’

 fertiliser3

Ammonia is a core component of fertiliser, feeding nitrogen to plants for photosynthesis. Image: Maurice van Bruggen/Wikimedia Commons

In the long term, Niemantsverdriet has hope for the ammonia economy as championed by Tao and others, providing carbon-free hydrogen from renewable energies. 

‘I strongly believe that there will be scope for large industrial parks where this technology can be cleverly integrated with gasification of coal in China, and perhaps biomass elsewhere,’ he says. ‘If dimensioned properly, this has the potential to reduce the carbon footprint in the future.’

 

Science & Innovation

In 1942 the Leverhulme Trust endowed a lecture in memory of the first Viscount Leverhulme, founder of the Lever Brothers 

The Lecture is given every three years before the Liverpool and North West Regional Group to promote chemical or technological research or education.

Prof Maitland is the 20th recipient of this prestigious award and gave his lecture on ‘Avoiding catastrophic climate change; Paris 2015 set the targets, can the UK deliver?’.

Read our full write-up on the lecture here   

 Board of Trustees

Geoffrey Maitland (second left) receives his award from Alan Bayliss, Chair of the Board of Trustees, with Trevor Rhodes (left), Chair of SCI’s Liverpool and North West Group, and Sharon Todd, SCI’s Executive Director. Image: Mike Halliday

 Chemical Engineering degree

Reace Edwards, from Chester University, collects her award from Prof Maitland. She is the top scoring second year student on the BEng/MEng Chemical Engineering degree course. Image: Mike Halliday

 Oliver Stanfield

Oliver Stanfield won his award for highest-achieving third year student on the BSc Chemistry with Industrial Experience course at the University of Bangor. Image: Mike Halliday

 Aaisha Patel

Aaisha Patel, from Liverpool John Moores University, is the best second year student on the BSc (Hons) Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science programme. Image: Mike Halliday

Sustainability & Environment

 Clean Water Act

The US’ environment agency and Clean Water Act is in trouble. Image: Public Domain Pictures

Budget proposals will slash the US Environmental Protection Agency’s funding by almost a third, and its workforce by 20%, quite apart from a major refocusing of its agenda. The new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt – whose time as attorney general in Oklahoma was notable for its opposition to environmental measures and the filing of multiple lawsuits against EPA – has certainly hit the ground running.

In contrast to Trump, Pruitt is actually getting stuff done, often going over the heads of his own staff. Planned regulations such as the chemical accident safety rule and a rule covering methane leaks from oil and gas wells have been delayed. Others have been reversed, including a ban on the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos, flying in the face of scientific advice from his own agency.

 Clean Water Act

Trump faced harsh criticism from several nations after pulling out of the Paris Agreement. Image: Gage Skidmore@Flickr

Other moves come in response to executive orders from the president. Trump’s earlier criticism of Obama’s use of executive orders hasn’t stopped him from throwing them around like confetti – in his first 100 days, he signed almost as many as Obama averaged in a year.

For example, at the end of February, he signed one requiring a review of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which defines what constitutes navigable waters. This might sound obscure, but it led to the EPA announcing at the end of June that it will rescind the 2015 Clean Water Rule.

‘WOTUS provided clarity on what bodies of water are subject to protections under the Clean Water Act,’ said Massachusetts congressman Mike Capuano. Essentially, the 2015 definition extended its scope to bring small waterways such as wetlands and streams under federal environmental rules, and not just big rivers and lakes.

‘The federal government won’t have the authority to regulate pollution in certain waterways because they don’t qualify under the EPA’s new definition,’ Capuano continued. ‘This will surely impact drinking water in many communities all across the country, since 117m Americans currently get their drinking water from small streams.’

EPA even published a press release that featured multiple quotes from Republican governors, senators and representatives across the country supporting the move. Quotes from those like Capuano – who believe it is a step backwards in water safety – were notable by their absence.

 Seven US scientific societies wrote to Trump condemning his actions

Seven US scientific societies wrote to Trump condemning his actions. Image: Max Pixel

So is mention of any scientific rationale. A letter from US scientists, drafted by conservation group American Rivers, states that the Clean Water Rule was developed using the best available, peer-reviewed science to clarify which bodies of water are, and are not, protected under the act. Importantly, it says that tributaries, intermittent streams and waters adjacent to them such as wetlands, are protected because of their physical, chemical and biological connections to navigable waterways. ‘We are disappointed that the current Administration has proposed dismantling the Rule with minimal consultation and without scientific justification,’ it says.

Much has been made of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, but that’s not the only signal that the air in the US is set to get dirtier. An executive order on energy independence signed by Trump at the end of March 2017 led to an instant response from EPA that it would review the Clean Power Plan. The order asked the various agencies to submit plans to revise or rescind regulatory barriers that impede progress towards energy independence, as well as wiping out several of Obama’s executive orders and policies in the field of climate change.

 climate change

Experts are worried that US air and water will become dirtier. The country is already the second biggest contributor to climate change in the world. Image: Pixabay

Top of the list for a potential resurgence: dirty energy. EPA has been directed to review, revise and rescind regulations that ‘may place unnecessary, costly burdens on coal-fired electric utilities, coal miners, and oil and gas producers’.

‘Our EPA puts America first,’ claimed Pruitt. ‘President Trump has a clear vision to create jobs, and his vision is completely compatible with a clean and healthy environment. By taking these actions today, the EPA is returning the agency to its core mission of protecting public health, while also being pro-energy independence.’

American flag gif

Originally posted by faidingrainbow

Many others beg to differ, including New Jersey senator Cory Booker. ‘It’s simply shameful that President Trump continues to put the interests of corporate polluters ahead of the health and safety of New Jersey families,’ he said. ‘The Administration’s repeated denial of clear science and proposed gutting of the EPA jeopardises the welfare of all Americans. 

‘Under no circumstance should we allow the fundamental right of each and every American to live in a safe and healthy environment be undermined by such destructive and irresponsible policies.’

Science & Innovation

 Concrete

Concrete is a common fixture in the building blocks of everyday life. Image: US Navy@Wikimedia Commons

Concrete is the most widely used construction material in the world, with use dating back to Ancient Egypt. 

Predictably, our needs concerning construction and the environment have changed since then, but the abundance of concrete and its uses have not. We still use concrete to build infrastructure, but building standards have changed dramatically.

 Dubai city landscape

Dubai city landscape. Concrete is predominantly used in residential buildings and infrastructure. Image: Pixabay

Its immense use, from house foundations to roads, means that problems cannot easily be fixed through removal of the old and replacement with the new. Such constraints have seen researchers focus on unique ways to solve the problems that widespread use of concrete can create for industry.


Self-healing concrete

In the UK, four universities have created ‘self-healing’ concrete as part of a collaborative project, known as Resilient Materials 4 Life (RM4L), to produce materials that can repair themselves. Currently, monitoring and fixing building materials costs the UK construction industry £40 billion a year.

construction gif

Originally posted by dddribbble

Microcapsules are mixed through the cement which then break apart when tiny cracks begin to appear. The group have also tested shape-memory polymers that can close the cracks together closely and prevent further damage. These techniques have shown success in long-term trials and in scaled-up structural elements, said Prof Bob Lark, speaking to Materials World magazine. Lark is lead investigator for RM4L at Cardiff University.

RM4L already has 20 industry partners and there is hope that, in the future, technologies can be transferred to other materials, although it has not yet reached the commercialisation stage.

Lark said: ‘What we have to do now is improve the reliability and reduce the cost of the techniques that we have developed so far, but we also need to find other, more efficient and perhaps more tailored approaches that can ensure we address the full range of damage scenarios that structures can experience.’


Making concrete eco-friendly

The abundance of concrete globally comes with an equally large carbon footprint, with concrete production equating to 5% of the annual CO2 produced by humans. For every tonne of concrete made, we contribute one tonne of CO2 to our surroundings. It is primarily due to the vast quantity produced each year that leads to this high level of environmental damage, as concrete is otherwise a ‘low impact’ material.

This inherent characteristic has led some scientists to develop stronger types of concrete. Here, the building features and low environmental impact of the material remain the same, but because less is needed of the stronger concrete to perform the same job, carbon emissions are reduced significantly.

Carbon Upcycling: Turning Carbon Dioxide into CO2NCRETE from UCLA Luskin on Vimeo.

Another method aimed at tackling emissions is the ‘upcycling’ of concrete. At UCLA, researchers have created a closed-loop process by using carbon capture from power plants that would be used to create a 3D-printed CO2NCRETE.

‘It could be a game-changer for climate policy,’ said Prof JR DeShazo, Director at the Luskin Centre for innovation, UCLA. ‘It takes what was a problem and turns it into a benefit in products and services that are going to be very much needed and valued in places like India and China.’