By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A group of UCLA engineers were awarded the $7.5 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPrize for creating a near carbon dioxide-neutral version of concrete.

Professor Gaurav Sant. (credit: UCLA)

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UCLA’s CarbonBuilt team, led by Professor Gaurav Sant, is the first university team to win the global competition’s grand prize for their creation of CO2NCRETE, a building material composed of hydrated lime that can absorb carbon dioxide quickly, according to UCLA officials. CO2NCRETE was demonstrated to reduce the carbon footprint of concrete by more than 50%, while being just as strong and durable as traditional forms of cement.

Sant said his original inspiration for the technology came from seashells.

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“Seashells are made of calcium carbonate, which is natures original cementation agent,” he said in a statement. “We were really motivated by the idea of how seashells were held together. And that’s how we really set about to turn carbon dioxide into concrete.

The UCLA team spent seven years developing CarbonBuilt’s concrete blocks, first by developing a new formula for cement using hydrated lime, or portlandite, which can absorb carbon dioxide quickly. Then the team created a method in which carbon dioxide taken directly from flue gas is absorbed by portlandite as the concrete hardens.

CarbonBuilt blocks require less ordinary Portland cement, while also being processed at ordinary temperatures and pressures. The more eco-friendly material is also cost-effective because there are no extra steps to purify or capture carbon dioxide emissions – CarbonBuilt’s process allows it to be taken directly from a plant’s flue gas.

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“The competition provides an opportunity for UCLA’s cutting-edge academic research to be applied in the real world,” Sant said in a statement. “The performance-based measures of CO2NCRETE have been useful in showing that this effort is not only viable, but scalable.”