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As the population increases, carbon emissions are on the rise due to the growing infrastructure which include skyscrapers, bridges and general structures. they all involve the use of steel and concrete. These emissions significantly contribute to climate change and can have detrimental consequences on the environment. Consequences vary from the burning of fossil fuels, which then release carbon dioxide along with greenhouse gases causing the general atmosphere temperature to rise by trapping solar energy into the atmosphere. Ultimately, it is affecting the use of our water supplies, weather, and increasing the sea level.
Structural engineering is what I’ve chosen as my focus as I continue my education. I have tried to focus on some key processes where there could be room for more eco-friendly improvements. One of the materials I’ll be working with heavily is Portland cement concrete. They are known to release great amounts of carbon emission. In my paper, I will introduce three alternatives; blue crete, Geo-polymers, and Calcium Sulfoaluminate.
The next material I’ll be working with often is steel.
While steel itself is not as hazardous as one would think, the process to make it does involve some waste that can be harmful to the environment. I’m going to address some substitutes that are being researched and are widely used in third world countries that are sustainable. Depending on where I end up working in the world, some of these processes introduced are highly likely to be introduced to me. At the end of the day protecting human safety is as important as protecting our environment no matter where my road may lead, being well informed on more eco-friendly practices will be my priority.
In today’s society despite the field of engineering you may be in, being conscious of environmental issues and knowing how to better designs is of utmost importance not only for your professional career but to everyone that lives on earth. I personally plan to focus on structural engineering. I believe there are multiple ways of improving practices to protect the growth of the human population from the hazardous effects of the most common building material which is known as Portland cement concrete and using more eco-friendly materials such as geo-polymers and a newly found alternative known as “Blue Crete.” Along with new ideas that prioritize environmental protection locally and globally from potentially hazardous waste due to the production of new developments involving steel and incorporating more sustainable practices.
Portland cement is very common and used around the world as an ingredient for cement, which is then used as the primary foundation or the entirety of the structure that humans live or work in, along with the bridges and roads we use to commute in every day. It is actually the “second most consumed substance on earth after water”. To be able to produce a ton of cement it requires” 4.7 million Btu of energy” and in return generates nearly a ton of carbon emission. To put that into perspective three tons of concrete is consumed by each individual person on earth every year. According to a study by the Energy Information Administration “buildings are one of the heaviest consumers of natural resources which account for a large portion of greenhouse emissions that contribute to climate change.”
In the United States alone, buildings contribute for 38% of carbon emission overall. In order to be able to spark change to a more eco-friendly alternative to PCC that does not emit as much CO2, I have found a new technology known as Blue crete. it uses a binding agent which is joined with materials such as alumina silicate to be able to attain a cement product which requires less energy to produce along with lowering emissions into the atmosphere. The key differences between Portland cement and blue crete, is that blue crete does not involve limestone in the mix, as opposed to Portland cement which releases green gas emissions by the heating of limestone, along with burning fossil fuels to heat kiln. There are many advantages to using Blue crete but just to name a few it is resistant to water, acids, and sulfates, has three times the compressive and tensile strength of Portland and has zero coefficient of expansion. The list goes on that makes it really competitive to Portland cement all of which result it in being just as reliable and should attract an engineer into focusing more in finding a more environmentally friendly material, personally if I ever get into a position of deciding what building material to use I would definitely put the integrity of the environment beforehand.
Calcium Sulfoaluminate cement is another eco-friendly alternative that can be taken into consideration when designing a new project. It was founded in China and has all the capabilities as traditional cement if not better such as high-speed bonding, fast strength development, and shrinkage reduction, it can be used in multiple developments such as in airports runways, bridges, structures, and many other creations. Reducing the carbon footprint should be the main goal of an engineer, and CSA does just that by being a greener binder due to its being calcined at a much lower temperature. It does emit CO2 but at a much lower rate which is 62% comparing to the production of PC, and having the lowest emission out of magnesium cement, sodium metasilicate, and calcium aluminate cement. Although the cost per ton is higher than PC, paying extra to protect the environment as more and more bridges and buildings are constructed with no sign of slowing down as population increases should be of priority.
The third eco-friendly alternative can be Geo-polymers although research is still being done to determine how suitable they are I believe its something worthy to mention. They are made up of coal, slag, lava, and fly-ash, which are natural resources and only produce a “fifth of production compared to PC” performing well in compression and flexibility tests and having better thermal resistance properties. Research is still being conducted on how do best apply in a structural standpoint but soon will be a key step into becoming a greener substitute for the protection of our environment locally.
Finally I hope to become a structural engineer one day, I’ll be exposed to working with steel often, throughout my research I thought it’d be more harmful but I found it’s not as hazardous as one would think. More manufacturers are trying to make the process less hazardous on the environment by practicing eco-friendly techniques such as using slag which happens to be the waste from steel and incorporating it into the production of concrete, also by using the excessive water it takes to cool and clean steel and running it through a filtration process that makes it close to 98% reusable. Along with finding that’s steel is extremely recyclable because of its properties and if you plan on using it again the quality will not deter, so multiple users can happen. But there are some alternatives I have found in replacement to steel that can be used as building material depending on where I will be working in the world this is an option.
An extensive amount of research is being focused on the use of bamboo as a substitute in developing countries because it comes with the benefits of having high strength, is renewable and it is non-polluting. It does have some cons such it naturally having high water absorption and insect infestation but that’s why research is being conducted, to be able to improve it properties and result into a low-cost energy-saving alternative for steel in countries that very much need it. Another possibility is using locally sourced material and incorporating it to the overall design. An interesting project I found was one in Switzerland where the engineer designed a bridge over a river made out of locally sourced timber, removing the possibility of using any energy intensive method to replace any section and instead of replacing it with timber nearby if due.
In conclusion, my focus in this paper was to try and introduce eco-friendly alternatives in the field of structural engineering which I plan on pursuing. Reducing carbon emission is highly important to protecting our environment for a future generation be able to sustain themselves. Although the use of these substitutes highly depends on the firm I’m working with and their ideologies involving politics and money, I will personally make it my priority to incorporate more sustainable practices in a design if due. I did not get into this field for the monetary vale but for the sheer love of being able to improve the quality of life for people, and while doing so I will make it a goal to educate myself upon more green practices and contribute in making.
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