EOH Professors on Team Winning $1.69 Million NSF Grant for Solar Cement

November 19, 2012

Associate Professors Peter LaPuma and Sabrina McCormick are two of the GW investigators working on a solar cement project that has received a $1.7 million, four-year grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant will support the development of a cement production method that relies on solar energy and an innovative electrochemical process, one that does not release climate-damaging carbon dioxide into the environment. Professor Stuart Licht of the Chemistry Department (in GW's Columbian College of Arts & Sciences) is the lead investigator on the project and the developer of the innovative cement production process.

“Using today’s typical methods, cement production is extremely energy-intensive, and accounts for 5% or more of all human-produced carbon dioxide emissions,” explains Dr. LaPuma. “If we can slash the emissions associated with cement, that’s an important step toward reducing the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”

Dr. LaPuma, who specializes in energy issues, will conduct a life cycle assessment that quantifies all of the inputs and outputs, including emissions, of the new production process. His analysis will address all phases of the process, from facility construction to the resources needed to transport finished products to end users. He will compare the resources used, pollutants reduced, and fossil fuels required for the solar cement production compared to today's typical cement production process.

Dr. McCormick, a sociologist and documentary filmmaker, will analyze the social dimensions that will affect the adoption of this new technology. Even if the team's research finds Dr. Licht's solar cement production method to be more cost-effective and environmentally beneficial than the status quo, that will not guarantee its adoption by the cement industry. Dr. McCormick will interview cement company executives, members of industry associations, and other stakeholders to explore the organization structures and norms that guide decisions about energy and technology usage.

"Because global climate disruption is a major threat to public health worldwide, it's essential for adoption of cleaner technologies to happen quickly," Dr. McCormick explains. "Understanding how organizations and industries function can help us speed the uptake of greener alternatives."