How magnesium could help cut carbon emissions from concrete

A photograph of Dr Anna Herring, standing in the lab, smiling and looking towards the camera.
1 March 2021

Concrete contributes about eight percent of the world’s carbon footprint – around 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide – but research into a new type of concrete that actually traps carbon could cut its emissions drastically.

“My dream goal for the future would be to close the cycle so we have zero emission concrete,” says Dr Anna Herring, a researcher at ANU Research School of Physics.

Dr Herring is studying concrete that’s formed with magnesium, instead of calcium.

Conventional concrete is formed from the raw material limestone (calcium carbonate CaCO3). During the processing, limestone is converted to calcium oxide (CaO), releasing carbon dioxide.

Magnesium-based concrete undergoes a similar chemical process, but is able to re-trap the carbon dioxide within the crystalline structure of the magnesium-based minerals, by forming hydrated magnesium carbonates [for example, nesquehonite, Mg(HCO3)(OH)•2(H2O)] which form the binding material that holds the concrete together.

Trapping carbon dioxide in this way would cut as much as 70 percent of the emissions from concrete.

Read the full article on the ANU Research School of Physics website, featuring Dr Anna Herring