UCLA Team Led by Indian American Professor Gaurav Sant Wins $7.5M NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE
Led by Indian American Gaurav Sant, a team of UCLA researchers won the $7.5 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE. (ucla.edu photo)
India-West Staff Reporter
UCLA announced April 19 that a group of engineers led by Indian American Professor Gaurav Sant has become the first university team to win the grand prize in the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE global competition.
By mitigating the carbon footprint of concrete, the team’s invention could eventually be a major step in the global battle against climate change, the university said.
The UCLA CarbonBuilt team, led by Sant, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, won $7.5 million in the competition’s track for technologies related to coal-fired power generation, the report noted.
The winning technology is a first-of-its-kind, eco-friendly approach for taking carbon dioxide emissions directly from power plants and other industrial facilities — emissions that would otherwise go into the atmosphere — and infusing them into a new type of concrete invented by the team, it said.
As it hardens and gains strength, the specially formulated concrete permanently absorbs and traps the greenhouse gas.
Through extensive research at UCLA and testing at the Integrated Test Center, a facility outside of Gillette, Wyoming, the researchers demonstrated that their process reduced the carbon footprint of concrete by more than 50 percent while producing concrete that was just as strong and durable as the traditional material, the release said.
Each CarbonBuilt concrete block stores about three-quarters of a pound of carbon dioxide — a significant amount considering an estimated 1 trillion concrete blocks will be produced annually by the year 2027, the UCLA report noted.
Sant joined the UCLA faculty in 2010. He and a group of staff scientists, postdoctoral scholars and doctoral students began the research that led to the award in 2014.
“I am absolutely thrilled that CarbonBuilt has won the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE,” Sant, who directs the UCLA Institute for Carbon Management and also holds a faculty appointment in the UCLA engineering materials science and engineering department, said in the report.
“As a third-generation civil engineer, I have been fascinated with the role that construction has played in solving societal challenges. To have spent the past decade developing a solution to mitigate the carbon footprint of concrete with a phenomenal team, and to have won the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE doing something I’m passionate about is an ultimate dream come true,” he added.
Sponsored by NRG Energy and Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, the $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition was launched in September 2015 to find ways to beneficially use carbon dioxide emissions.
The nonprofit XPRIZE Foundation challenged a global community of problem-solvers to develop technologies for turning carbon dioxide from coal and natural gas power plant emissions into valuable products. A Canadian team called CarbonCure won the competition’s other track, for natural gas–based power generation.
Sant said the original inspiration for the winning technology came from an unlikely source: seashells, according to the UCLA report.
“Seashells are made of calcium carbonate, which is nature’s original cementation agent,” he said in the report. “We were really motivated by the idea of how seashells were held together. And that’s how we really set about to turn carbon dioxide into concrete.”
Originally scheduled for February 2020, the competition’s final round was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2020, the UCLA team deployed to the Integrated Test Center to demonstrate its system on an industrial scale.
The demonstration ran for four months and produced more than 330,000 pounds of CarbonBuilt concrete blocks. Some of the concrete blocks were donated to the Eastern Shoshone tribe for housing projects on the Wind River Reservation in Fort Washakie, Wyoming, the report said.
The funds from the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE award will support innovative carbon-mitigation research and technology development at UCLA Engineering. CarbonBuilt, which is a private company founded by Sant, has secured rights related to the project’s patent portfolio owned by UCLA to commercialize the technology, it said.
Prior to winning the grand prize, the team had raised $10 million toward the development of the CarbonBuilt technology. In addition to a $500,000 award from the XPRIZE Foundation in 2018 for reaching the finals, Sant secured a $1.8 million grant in 2019 from the Department of Energy. The Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation contributed $1.5 million in 2017.