Monday, August 15, 2022

UNCW researcher to be co-principal investigator on global warming reduction project

UNCW Research Professor Catharina Alves-de-Souza, director of the Algal Resources Collection at the Center for Marine Science  (Courtesy UNCW/Arden Lumpkin).

WILMINGTON — A Wilmington professor will use a $1 million-grant to advance a carbon-neutral process to make cement. 

Catharina Alves-de-Souza and a research team under leadership from the University of Colorado Boulder use microalgae to pull carbon dioxide out of the air during cement production, making the alternative method carbon neutral or even carbon negative. 

“The proposed biotechnological approach offers a revolutionary pathway to produce, for the first time, CO2-neutral portland cement using microalgae,” Alves-de-Souza said in a UNCW press release. “Nothing like that has ever been attempted before.”

The UNCW and Boulder collaboration, named ​​“A Photosynthetic Route to Carbon-Negative Portland Limestone Cement Production,” could be used to minimize global warming.

Not only that, but the method could be used for other purposes.

“We will also obtain other high-value products from the microalgae, such as lipids and proteins, which will make the project economically viable,” Alves-de-Souza, who is also the director of the Algal Resources Collection at UNCW’s Center for Marine Science, said in the release. 

The funding comes from a $3 million grant awarded to the University of Colorado Boulder from the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.  The grant is given out to projects focused on overcoming barriers associated with carbon-storing buildings, including scarce, expensive and geographically limited building materials.

According to the release, the cement industry contributes to 7% of global anthropogenic carbon dioxide, most of which is released due to heating quarried limestone. 

“Concrete is an essential resource for climate-resilient construction, but the production of one of concrete’s main ingredients, portland cement, is energy-intensive and generates a large amount of carbon in the atmosphere,” Dr. Stuart Borrett, associate provost for research and innovation at UNCW, said. 

The team will screen samples of microalgae, simulating an environment that will optimize their growth and modify their genetics to reach the volume of microalgae that can capture enough carbon dioxide. 

“It’s not every day we have the opportunity to work with such a diverse research team, including engineers, microalgal specialists, geneticists and business specialists, all working toward a common goal,” Alves-de-Souza said.  “As a scientist, this project represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to generate basic knowledge that could be applied on a short-term scale to minimize global warming, one of the main threats to the planet.”


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