UNCW researcher to be co-principal investigator of project to reduce global warming

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

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

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

“The proposed biotechnology approach offers a revolutionary route to produce, for the first time, CO2-neutral Portland cement using microalgae,” Alves-de-Souza said in a UNCW press release. “Nothing like this 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,” said Alves-de-Souza, who is also director of the resource collection. algae at the UNCW Center for Marine. Science, said in the release.

The funding comes from a $3 million grant awarded to the University of Colorado at Boulder by the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. The grant is awarded to projects aimed at overcoming the barriers associated with buildings that store carbon, including scarce, expensive and geographically limited building materials.

According to the release, the cement industry contributes 7% of the world’s anthropogenic carbon dioxide, most of which is released due to the heating of mined 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 releases a large amount of carbon into the atmosphere,” said Dr. Stuart Borrett, vice-rector 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 achieve the volume of microalgae capable of capturing enough carbon dioxide.

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

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Teresa H. Sadler