Cement From Thin Air
As a marine-biology student in the 1980s, Brent Constantz was astonished to discover how simply corals conjure their stony mass from nothing more than seawater. The trick? They combine the calcium and bicarbonate already present in seawater into calcium carbonate, which crystallizes into a durable exoskeleton. Constantz spent the next two decades thinking about how to apply a similar trick to patching human bones, took out more than 60 patents, started two companies, and now his bone cement is in use around the world.
But he also continued thinking about coral, and in 2007 that led him to an ingenious insight about another form of cement—the kind that goes into buildings. Like coral, limestone cement also crystallizes in water. Add an aggregate to the mix, such as sand or gravel, and the result is cheap and durable concrete. But making cement requires heating limestone to about 2,600°F, which causes the limestone to release carbon dioxide. The result, reports the U.S. Department of Energy, is that cement production has become the "largest source of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions other than fossil fuel consumption." And demand is growing rapidly, especially in the developing world. In China, for instance, some 15 million people move from the country to the city every year, and construction must keep pace.
Constantz realized that cement manufacturers, by emulating coral, could meet that demand even as they actually reduced the total amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Moreover, they could sequester the raw materials from the world's single largest carbon-dioxide emitter, electric power plants. In 2009 his latest company, Calera, started putting that insight into practice at a 1,000-megawatt power plant in Moss Landing, California. Engineers there spray mineral-rich seawater or brine water through flue gas captured from the plant's smokestacks. The calcium in the water bonds with carbon in the would-be pollution to form cement. Constantz says the demonstration plant is capable of producing up to 1,100 tons of cement a day and, in doing so, sequestering 550 tons of carbon dioxide. Within three years, he says, Calera will be operating plants in Australia and Wyoming.
Constantz notes as well that, unlike other sequestration schemes, his plan for capturing carbon emissions is proven. For at least 600 million years, sea creatures have been "sequestering" carbon dioxide in their skeletons, which have compacted over time to form all the limestone on Earth—the very stuff we now heat to make cement. Instead of turning stone to carbon dioxide, we can turn carbon dioxide into "stone," locking it away forever in the concrete foundations of our cities. "When we think of climate change," Constantz says, "the main lever we have is putting carbon back in the geologic record."
I think this is great! This is the kind of thing that happens when smart people do smart things.
THIS IS AWESOME!!!!! One question, does this mean that inland power plants can't use this process, since they lack access to sea water? If so, it's still an incredible idea. Although you'd have to be careful about building power plants close to coast lines (Hurricanes, storms, etc).
This is an excellent idea.
One correction: putting carbon back in the geologic record is not the "main lever" to mitigate climate change. We don't know what the "main lever" is because we still don't know what drives global warming.
The earth has gone through numerous periods of glaciation followed by warmer interglacial periods. The gradual cooling goes on for 75,000 to 100,000 years followed by a fairly rapid warming period (geologically speaking) of about 10,000 years. We're in the middle of the latest interglacial warming period. If the temperature proxies are correct, this one is not the warmest on record, nor is there any evidence to suggest that it will be. No one knows what causes the cyclical global cooling and warming though one of the most promising theories has to do with the periodic changes in earth's orbit called Milankovitch cycles.
The relationship between atmospheric CO2 and global warming is also not well understood. The climate record shows that CO2 saturation actually lags warming which may mean that warming produces more CO2 rather than CO2 producing warming.
It's possible that man-made CO2 is also contributing a bit to natural warming, but its effect is logarithmic which means that it takes a large percentage increase in CO2 saturation to produce a very small amount of warming.
Empirically, water vapor in the atmosphere has a far more significant effect on warming than CO2, and sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere has a far more significant effect on cooling (as noted by recent volcanic eruptions) than sequestering CO2.
Mathematically, reducing man-made CO2 would have a negligible effect on global warming, though that doesn't mean we shouldn't pursue cost-effective schemes for reducing it. Hopefully Constantz's technique is cost-effective.
Think, a whole building practicly being made from thin air. Think of how low the cost of building matterials would be if this can be achived in large amounts.
This is mindblowingly brilliant! This guy has made the most important discovery of the century! It's just amazing. He just killed the two biggest birds with one stone in the most profound way.
His patience paid off. The idea that we have been creating cement quite literally backwards is a indescribable. There is so much that is beyond amazing with this discovery. And the idea that it is entirely derived from nature is just amazing.
I also wonder where else this could be applied. Could this process be used to capture emissions from metal smelting and blast furnaces used to make steal. or maybe it can capture the emissions from landfill gas power plants and knock out all traces of methane impact. Would this be applicable at any industrial carbon emitter?
This is amazing on so many levels. The completeness yet simplicity of the idea is shocking. The other amazing thing is that shocking news is rarely good news these day. This guy knocked it out of the ballpark on a galactic level. Simply brilliant.
Constantz is a god among men.
Also excellent work done by the author of this article.
He deserves a Nobel prize and a buttload of cash from the government.
@ laurenra7-stop spreading mis-information, all your comments concerning global warming are incorrect or common knowledge that has nothing to do with the current climate change-stay away from denier websites (propaganda) and try real science sites like NOAA, The National Science Foundation, NASA, just to name a few obvious ones (which all disagree with you)-ignorance is not bliss
I think they would figure a way to get the sea water or brine water to where it needed to be. If anything else, they could build a pipeline to pipe it in. Or worst case truck it in.
This is a great idea! I hope it catches on.
I don't know a lot about concrete, but do they have to grind all of that up to make the cement portion to put in the concrete, or do they just make it into pellets that dissolve when water is added? Awesome idea. I wish there were hundreds more like it. Hopefully this might make it cheaper to build concrete houses instead of wood-framed houses. It could also give infrastructure in the US a big boost. We use a crap-ton of electricity, so if we put this system into most power plants, we could churn out a crap-ton of cement.
I think you're right. see the white chunks of stuff in his hands. I think that's what comes out and they grind it and bag it. They likely use a big tumbler with huge steal balls inside to turn it into powder. Or some other method but yeah im sure your right about grinding it up.
This makes me curious about creating man-made islands in the oceans...
Seems to me like one could stick a natural gas platform off of the coast to pump natural gas and stick one of his concrete systems on top to create electricity/concrete.
Use the concrete to create support pillars for the "sea-city" around the natural gas well/power plant, and obviously the electricity to power the city and construction efforts.
@drchuck1, what misinformation? Everything I said was factually correct. Look it up. NASA, NSA and NOAA don't disagree, however James Hansen at NASA might. There are a vocal group of climate scientists like Hansen who claim that the science is settled. It isn't. They're only demonstrating their own rigid bias--a bias that has no place in honest scientific inquiry.
you can keep repeating propaganda from the denier camp all you want, it doesn't make it less wrong...NASA, NSA, and NOAA all agree that steps need to be taken to prevent the worst of the climate change(along with every real science organization), so you are either being dishonest or completely clueless
back to the article...this is a great new technology that should be used worldwide
@drchuck1, I've spent a lot of time reading up on climate studies, so I'm pretty sure I'm not clueless. And I don't know what my motivation to be dishonest would be. Do you?
Does it occur to you that the "deniers camp" is closer to the truth about global climate? Has NASA, for example, ever been wrong about something fairly significant? Read up about the recent arsenic-loving astrobiology announcement. Has the IPCC been wrong about anything? Major science organizations and climate studies groups? Yep.
Everything in my original post is factually correct. The mechanisms driving global warming are not well understood. However, the global warming alarmists--due to their bias that humans are doing significant damage to the planet (which has some merit)--have predetermined that humans are causing unprecedented warming. They just needed to demonstrate that the current warming trend is unusually steep, and they needed to explain how humans could be causing it.
The Mann, et al. "hockey stick" graph of 1998 was the major piece of evidence that recent warming has increased beyond historically normal warming trends. The study that produced that graph has been shown to be seriously flawed. Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick could find no way to reproduce a graph showing anything other than a normal warming trend except by introducing spurious data. Others have come to the same conclusion. Nevertheless it was used as the foundation of the IPCC's statement that current warming is unprecedented. Other studies showing similar steep increases in warming have been found faulty.
A century ago during the Industrial Revolution, it was suggested that the huge CO2 output of factories--and later automobiles--must be heating the environment. Recently this idea has gained traction, most notably with James Hansen of NASA, who studied the atmosphere of Venus for years. The atmosphere of Venus is 96% carbon dioxide, creating a greenhouse effect that heats the surface to 860° F, hotter than Mercury which is much closer to the sun and receives 4 times the solar radiation.
Because the measured CO2 saturation of the atmosphere increases steadily each year as long as we've been measuring it (since 1958), it was chosen as the likely causal mechanism for the "unprecedented" warming trend (which wasn't actually there). Interestingly, CO2 saturation continues to increase, but measured warming in the past half century has flat-lined and gone down as well as up. So much for a causal link. By the way, the earth's atmosphere is 0.038% CO2, an insignificant fraction of the concentration on Venus. It has been much higher in the past with apparently no detrimental effect to the species living at the time.
The geologic record shows that increased CO2 saturation may be a normal effect of warming (that lags warming by a thousand years). Because CO2 saturation increases warming logarithmically, the human contribution of CO2, even if fairly significant, would (theoretically) only raise the global temperature a fraction of a degree at most. Nevertheless, it's probably a good idea to mitigate this in cost-effective ways (rather than dubious and prohibitively expensive cap-and-trade agreements). That's why kudos to Brent Constantz for a novel idea.
The reason that there is a "consensus" that humans cause global warming and that it must be stopped is because it's easy to notice hysterical headlines about global warming. Not so much to the numerous careful studies that show nothing of the sort, that warming is a normal part of an interglacial period; or the studies that find flaws in the previous conclusions. "Global temperature is just right" doesn't sell newspapers or advertising time. Even the startling revelations of fraud and collusion among leading climate studies groups to suppress information contrary to the global-warming consensus was a momentary bump in the news cycle, that was soon swept away in the momentum of the global warming movement. Luckily, more people are paying attention and questioning the methods and motives of the global warming alarmists and discovering that anthropogenic global warming claims--so far--have little merit.
Someone with brains be innovative and do the same thing with cars, maybe plastic.
Provide citations for your information if you want to be taken seriously...
"We don't know what the "main lever" is because we still don't know what drives global warming."
97% of world's active climate scientists and every major scientific organization in the world says you are wrong.
AGW is the most thoroughly peer reviewed theory in the history of science.!!!!
You are repeating common myths about global warming, perpetuated by vested interests like fossil fuel companies and their "think tank" proxies. These have become urban legends.
The science of greenhouse gas warming is well understood. It is over 100 year old science.
Fourier calculates colder earth without an atmosphere (1824)
Tyndall discovers relationship between CO2 and long-wave radiation (1859)
Arrhenius calculates global warming from anthropogenic CO2 (1896)
Chamberlin models global carbon exchange including feedbacks (1897)
Callendar predicts global warming increase catalysed by CO2 emissions (1938)
Revelle predicts inability of oceans to sequester anthropogenic CO2 (1958)
from "The Discovery of Global Warming" by Spencer Weart
the greenhouse gas effect was first proposed by Joseph Fourier in 1824, proven to exist by John Tyndall in 1858, and quantified by Svante Arrhenius in 1896.
But for Rush Limbaugh and the Republicans and tea baggers, Global Warming is just an agenda cooked up by Al Gore and other liberals.
The fact that CO2 might not have been the forcing that started some previous warmings says nothing about the present situation.
"Empirically, water vapor in the atmosphere has a far more significant effect on warming than CO2,"
Wrong conclusion. Water vapor ONLY works as a feedback, never as a forcing that can initiate warming. CO2 can be a feedback or an initial forcing, which it undoubtedly is now.
CO2 follows warming or lags warming argument
Climate Crock videos look it up here or at Skeptical Science blog.
You can look up any skeptic argument at Skeptical Science blog. They cover them all.
As someone who enjoys science and is very interested in the environment as well as the science of climate change, I find the comments on this article to be very enlightening.
First, every commenter has praised the technology and innovative thinking that is the basis for the article. All of us have seen this as a step in the right direction.
Second everyone seems to be basing their discussion on "proven" science and as such appears to accept that science is a valid way of settling a disagreement.
What I don't understand is the lack of respect for the scientific process of testing and questioning each hypothesis and continuing to refine our theories as long as there is "reasonable" grounds for disagreement.
If we can respectfully find the common ground of "doing the right thing" while we continue to acknowledge that we need to understand more about our climate and its short term and long term cycles our dialog would be more productive and we would make progress in every area at a much faster rate.