The year of 2024 marks the bicentennial for ordinary Portland cement, which is by far the world’s most widely used manufactured material and is central to sustainable built environments. Yet, its manufacturing process demands high energy, emits a large amount of carbon dioxide, and overconsumes natural resources. In response to this eco-unfriendly manufacturing process, Professor Guoping Zhang of the UMass Amherst Civil and Environmental Engineering Department is the principal investigator on a formidable, four-year, $3-million ($2,999,862) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Future Manufacturing Program. The NSF issued the grant – entitled “Caron-inverted Manufacturing of Inverted Cements” – to develop a new greener form of cement with a much more ecological manufacturing paradigm. See NSF invests $35M in future manufacturing.

Zhang’s team has nicknamed the groundbreaking new material “inverted cement,” or simply “iCem,” for its potential to invert or reverse Portland cement’s environmentally harmful manufacturing process. Also working on Zhang’s team are Assistant Professor Peng Bai of the UMass Amherst Chemical Engineering Department, along with collaborators from four other universities across the country: Worcester Polytechnic Institute, University of California San Diego, University of Alabama, and Southern University.

Zhang says he will be leading “a team of scientists and engineers to re-invent the future cement by inverting both the traditional Portland cement manufacturing [process] and the ever-increasing mine wastes currently under alarming expansion due to the high demand for critical metals and elements from electric vehicles.”

In this context, the NSF research project seeks to create future eco-friendly manufacturing of next-generation greener cements by simultaneously utilizing the carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions from ordinary Portland cement manufacturing and upcycling the wastes generated from mining and refining industries as feedstocks. 

As Zhang explains, “The team will use calcium/magnesium/iron-bearing silicates from mine wastes and carbon dioxide captured from point sources, such as Portland-cement manufacturing factories, fossil-fuel-based power plants, and other high-emission industries, to innovatively manufacture carbon-inverted or even carbon-negative cement….”

According to Zhang and his colleagues in their NSF abstract, “The targeted product is a new class of silicate-cemented carbonates to be manufactured for the first time by transforming calcium/magnesium-leached polymeric silicates from waste feedstocks as cementing agents…to bond the precipitated carbonates that permanently store gaseous carbon dioxide in solid minerals as value-added products.” 

This project is designed not only to generate the fundamental science on polymeric, silicate-bonded, inverted cement and develop knowledge about future manufacturing of inverted cement. It will also tackle multiple pressing global challenges, including carbon-dioxide emission, climate change, and industrial-waste upcycling. 

As Zhang and his collaborators conclude, “The project aims to contribute to advancing sustainability, environmental protection, and circular economy, thereby generating significant impacts on the environment and human society at multiple scales and dimensions.” (March 2024)

Article posted in Research