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Decarbonising construction with Graphene

Workers at the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC), Manchester
Workers at the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC), Manchester

Graphene, the revolutionary 2D material first isolated in 2004 at the University of Manchester, is set to transform how buildings are constructed, aligning with the global sustainability agenda, according to James Baker, CEO Graphene@Manchester.

The construction industry faces a pressing challenge in meeting Net Zero targets, and one promising avenue for progress lies in the adoption of advanced materials. The cement industry, notorious for its high carbon footprint, contributes between 8-10% of global CO2 emissions. 

The University of Manchester aims to significantly reduce the need for cement, concrete, and steel in building projects, actively engaged in mitigating this impact through the integration of Graphene.

From lab experiments to large-scale site trials, Graphene admixtures, says Baker, have demonstrated improvements in concrete's strength, accelerated curing time, and reduced permeation. Ongoing efforts are directed towards verifying and certifying Graphene-enhanced concrete for adoption across the construction industry.

A breakthrough study by Manchester engineers introduced Graphene to concrete, branded as 'Concretene.' In collaboration with industry partners Nationwide Engineering, the commercial-scale implementation showed a potential reduction of up to 30% in materials without compromising strength or integrity. This not only enhances Concretene's environmental friendliness but also presents a cost-effective alternative for construction projects.

Moving into real-world commercialization, the demand for Graphene innovation is growing, driven by sustainability considerations. Manchester, as the global home of Graphene, supports ongoing research and commercialization through initiatives like Graphene@Manchester and the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC), fostering an open innovation ecosystem.

Recognizing the diverse applications of Graphene, the GEIC acknowledges the need for varied solutions. Concrete, with its dependency on local variables such as water and climate, requires a nuanced approach. While work with concrete is still in its early stages, the focus is shifting towards accelerating Graphene applications, including ventures in the UAE.

The road to commercialization unfolds with Graphene-enhanced polymer composite concrete, developed with Graphene Innovations Manchester (GIM), another GEIC partner. This innovative solution, requiring zero cement and water, holds tremendous potential for road building and civil infrastructure. Not only does it enhance sustainability, but it also addresses the issue of recycled plastic waste, contributing to the reduction and reuse of materials.

Founded by a Manchester University graduate, Dr. Vivek Koncherry, GIM has signed an MoU with Quazar Investment Company to establish a new company in the UAE, marking a significant step in the commercialization of Graphene. This ambitious project, valued at $1 billion, aims to fast-track cutting-edge R&D into large-scale manufacture, demonstrating confidence in Graphene's potential to drive the transition to a Net Zero world.

The venture by GIM envisions the creation of premium, environmentally-friendly products, including Graphene-enhanced concrete that eliminates the need for cement and water while utilizing recycled materials. This marks a pivotal moment in the commercialization of Graphene, aligning with the UAE's smart city ambitions and its commitment to sustainability.

As the construction sector seeks reassurance on design codes and long-term performance, GIM is ready to take risks in small-scale projects, generating promising results and data. The parallels with the adoption of carbon fiber, once met with skepticism, resonate as Graphene's potential becomes increasingly evident. In the UAE, a hotbed of innovation, Abu Dhabi plays a crucial role in the Graphene ecosystem, collaborating with Graphene@Manchester on research and commercialization.

The Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre serves as a catalyst for innovation, aligning with the UAE's vision for the future. As the Year of Sustainability unfolds, the UAE positions itself as a global innovation lab, embracing Graphene's potential to revolutionize construction practices and contribute to a more sustainable future.