Imperial College receives funding for net zero projects in construction, energy and transport

28 July 2023 | Muriel Cozier

‘Production of a cement replacement material with carbon capture is a really innovative approach.’

Research teams from the UK’s Imperial College London have received funding for research focused on achieving net zero.

A project tackling how to make concrete more sustainable has received more than £986,000 in funding from the Carbon Capture, Usage & Storage (CCUS) Innovation 2.0 competition, which is part of the UK government’s Department for Energy Security and NetZero £1 billion Innovation Portfolio.

Concrete accounts for 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions due to the production of Portland cement, a binding ingredient. Working to design a more sustainable building material that is capable of capturing carbon, Imperial researchers are taking magnesium silicate minerals such as olivine, and breaking this down into magnesia and silica. The silica can be used as a supplementary cementitious material (SCM) in concrete, which has the job of making concrete mixtures more economical, reducing permeability or increasing strength.

The remaining magnesia can be used to permanently sequester carbon dioxide, forming magnesium carbonate which offers long-term storage of carbon dioxide. Magnesium carbonate could also be used to make other construction materials.

The funding will be used to ‘develop and optimise the silica SCM and magnesium carbonate construction products, subjecting them to comprehensive testing regimes.’

Professor Chris Cheeseman from Imperial’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and project leader said that: ‘Production of a cement replacement material with carbon capture is a really innovative approach that has massive potential to decarbonise cement, concrete and therefore construction.’

Also receiving government funding through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Imperial researchers have been awarded £1.4 million to lead a project using artificial intelligence (AI) to help the UK’s energy and transport sectors reach net zero.

Led by Imperial, the project brings together scientists from universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh and Oxford. The team will develop real-time sustainable and robust ‘digital twins’ – exact virtual replicas of aeroplanes, wind farms and lorries, that learn from merging data and prior knowledge. Using AI, researchers will be able to test the digital twins in a range of aerodynamic conditions and predict how they would perform in real life. The work will focus on the difficult problems related to wind energy, hydrogen combustion and road transportation.

The project also aims to inform best practice. ‘As part of the project we’re carrying out research to examine the integration of climate science communication, policymaking and the AI research we will deliver, to ensure that we develop best practice in these areas, allowing us to make a difference,’ said Sir John Aston, Harding Professor of Statistics in Public Life at Cambridge University, an policy lead for the project.

Funding for this project is part of the £54 million UK government investment to develop trustworthy AI research announced earlier this year.

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