2023 Challenge Runner-Up – Colorado School of Mines

Team Members:

Colleen Moauro – PhD student Majoring in Advanced Energy Systems

Tyler Fenton – Master’s student in Mechanical Engineering

Molly Maksin – Undergraduate in Environmental Engineering

Zane Prose – Master’s student in Mechanical Engineering

School:  Colorado School of Mines

Challenge:  Curb Your Carbon​

The objective of this challenge is to develop an innovative solution that will reduce carbon emissions from U.S. buildings (residential, commercial, new, or existing). Student problem statements can focus on embodied carbon, carbon sequestration and storage, and/or operational carbon emissions. Innovative solutions should lead to significant reductions in carbon emissions, and fewer inequalities in obtaining new technologies for identified stakeholder groups.

Project Title: Carbon-Negative Building Materials: Building a Greener Tomorrow

Solution:  Concrete is the most used building material due to its positive qualities including, but not limited to high strength, durability, resistance to water, thermal insulation, and inexpensiveness. Unfortunately, concrete is also responsible for 8% of global CO2 emissions with half of its emissions from the necessary calcination reactions to produce cement. Therefore, to cut the carbon in building production, alternative materials and methods of construction must be considered. Lignin is the second-most abundant biomaterial in the world and a byproduct of several industries like, most-notably, the paper and pulp industry. When isolated, it has excellent mechanical properties like high compressive strength and good plasticity that make it a compelling candidate for use in green construction materials, especially because it does not require high-carbon emitting calcination. Therefore, our team proposes designing a novel construction material called “LignoResin” to replace concrete in building construction. In this paper, we discuss the technology-to-market plan, as this material can potentially reutilize parts of concrete production. We also address and provide potential solutions for barriers to market adoption. A cost analysis shows that this material can be cost-competitive to concrete. Lastly, life-cycle analysis is conducted of the environmental impacts from 1 m3 of concrete to supplement the findings from other analyses. It is concluded that because much of the CO2 emissions for concrete are from the calcination process, switching to the lignin-based solution will cut the carbon for buildings.