Skip to Content
77 Mass Ave

Building with CO2

A new construction material grows by absorbing greenhouse gases.
December 19, 2018
Geoffroy deCrecy

MIT chemical engineers have come up with a material that can react with carbon dioxide from the air to expand and get stronger. As long as its surface is exposed, the carbon-based material continuously reinforces itself by capturing and converting the greenhouse gas from the air.

The new material, a polymer, is a synthetic gel-like substance that performs a chemical process similar to the one plants use to incorporate carbon dioxide from the air into their growing tissues. It could someday be used as a protective coating or a construction material such as panels of a lightweight matrix. Shipping those to a building site, where they would harden and solidify from exposure to air and sunlight, would reduce the energy and cost associated with transportation.

“This is a completely new concept in materials science,” says professor Michael Strano, who led the research with postdoc Seon-Yeong Kwak.

“Imagine a synthetic material that could grow like trees, taking the carbon from the carbon dioxide and incorporating it into the material’s backbone.” The material, which becomes stronger as it incorporates the carbon, is not yet strong enough to be used as a building material, though it might function as a crack filler or a self-repairing coating material, the researchers say.

After working out how to produce materials of this type by the ton, they’re now optimizing their properties. “Our work shows that carbon dioxide need not be purely a burden and a cost,” Strano says. “It is also an opportunity.”

Keep Reading

Most Popular

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway

Weirdly, any recent work on The Line doesn’t show up on Google Maps. But we got the images anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.