Two PhD students from Imperial College London have won the 2022 OBEL AWARD for their proposal to eliminate the carbon footprint of concrete. Sam Draper and Barney Shanks collected the top prize for their technology named Seratech, which captures industrial CO2 emissions directly from flues to produce a carbon-negative cement replacement material.
Seratech’s approach centers on lowering the embodied carbon of concrete buildings. "Unlike operational emissions, embodied emissions cannot be reversed or remedied once the building is constructed," the group explains. "The CO2 that is released during the manufacturing process cannot later be mitigated, and that is why it is essential to tackle the problem at source – and at global level."
Seratech’s process offers an "efficient, low-cost process" for capturing CO2 emissions from industrial flues. The chemical process that captures the emissions also creates a silica cement additive that can replace the amount of Portland cement in a concrete mix by up to 40%.
By designing their process to integrate with existing manufacturing lines and concrete-producing equipment, the team believes that their technology can be implemented in every cement plant around the world without major shifts in current practices or mindsets.
"It is such an honour to receive the OBEL AWARD," said Seratech co-creator Draper. "This visibility will help us attract people in industry and scale our technology – and scale it rapidly. Humanity can’t afford to spend 20-50 years scaling the technology to give us sustainable materials. It needs to be now."
Following their winning of the 2022 OBEL AWARD, the team is currently developing the design of a pilot plant to model the process at a large scale.
"We want to highlight the importance of collaboration between academia, industry, and the work of architects," added co-creator Shanks. "That’s why the OBEL AWARD is great because it’s essentially forcing this collaboration, making us take notice of each other, and getting that interdisciplinary work happening. I can’t wait to see some of the brilliant architects take this material and do some weird and wonderful things with it."
The team are set to officially receive the award’s EUR 100,000 prize at a ceremony at the Utzon Center in Aalborg, Denmark on October 25th 2022. The team will join previous winners such as ‘The 15-minute city: a global urban strategy’ by Professor Carlos Moreno in 2021, and ‘Anandaloy: a community building made from mud in Bangladesh’ by Anna Heringer in 2020.
"Seratech is working on an ambitious yet simple solution for how to make carbon-neutral concrete," the jury said in their citation. "Importantly, the technology can be integrated into the existing processes and production lines globally. Once scaled up and implemented, Seratech has the potential to significantly reduce overall carbon emissions from the construction industry. Hopefully, the 2022 OBEL AWARD can play a part in achieving this pivotal and common goal."
Learn more about the Obel Award here.
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