UCL Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering


UCL's low-carbon concrete research breaks new ground in sustainable building

11 October 2023

The construction industry accounts for 40% of the world's carbon emissions with the pressure to decarbonize becomes greater than ever. UCL takes a significant leap on the quest for sustainable building solutions with its ambitious large-scale research on low-carbon concrete.

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The quest for sustainable building solutions has taken a significant leap forward at University College London (UCL) with pioneering research on low-carbon concrete. With the construction industry accounting for a staggering 40% of the world's carbon emissions, the pressure to decarbonize has never been greater. UCL, in collaboration with the Mace Group and funded by Innovate UK, is at the forefront of developing advanced structural systems that exploit materials with low embodied carbon.

Under Professor Wendel Sebastian, UCL's Structural Engineering Laboratory has become the epicenter of low-carbon concrete research. The focus of this ambitious project is full-scale floor modules constructed from cemfree concrete slabs connected to steel channels. Cement production, responsible for releasing over 5% of all global carbon emissions, is a major culprit in the industry's carbon footprint. Cemfree concrete, enhanced with innovative additives, offers a low-carbon alternative to traditional concrete.

While low-carbon concretes are not a novel concept, the UCL project stands out due to its unprecedented scale. Previous experiments with low-carbon materials have been conducted on a smaller, less practical basis. UCL's project, however, marks a significant step forward by testing these innovations at the scale of an entire floor module.

To achieve this, the research team has harnessed advanced sensors, state-of-the-art data acquisition systems, and the latest generation of servohydraulic actuators. This sophisticated technology enables the simulation of various realistic load cases and records the module's responses. This data is then meticulously analyzed to develop and verify predictive models, paving the way for practical applications.

The multidisciplinary project team is comprised of design engineers, sensor experts, and material suppliers who are pooling their expertise to produce practical guidance for implementing these innovative floor modules in real-world construction projects. Their goal is to provide the construction industry with the tools and knowledge necessary to shift towards more sustainable building practices.

The implications of UCL's low-carbon concrete research will make a substantial contribution to the global effort to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the environmental impact of the construction industry. By replacing traditional concrete with low-carbon alternatives, the industry can take a significant step towards a greener and more sustainable future.

As construction projects continue to multiply around the world, the work at UCL demonstrates that innovative solutions can mitigate the industry's environmental impact without sacrificing structural integrity and safety. With the collaboration of experts, innovative technology, and the commitment of industry leaders, a low-carbon future for construction is within reach.