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Revolutionizing Concrete: Researchers Find a Way to Recover Used Cement

Concrete, the second-most-used material on our planet, plays a crucial role in construction and infrastructure. However, its production comes with a hefty environmental cost. Researchers from the University of Cambridge have recently unveiled an innovative method that could transform the way we produce concrete and help combat climate change.

The Concrete Conundrum

Concrete consists of sand, gravel, water, and cement – the binding agent that holds it all together. Surprisingly, cement is responsible for nearly 90% of concrete’s emissions. The traditional process of making cement involves clinkering, where limestone and other raw materials are heated to around 1,450°C in large kilns. Unfortunately, this process releases substantial amounts of carbon dioxide (CO₂) as limestone decarbonates into lime1.

Recycling Cement: A Game-Changing Solution

The breakthrough by Cambridge researchers lies in recycling used cement. They discovered that used cement can effectively replace lime flux, a critical component in steel recycling. Typically, lime flux removes impurities during steel production and ends up as waste known as slag. By substituting lime with used cement, the researchers created a recycled cement that can be reused to make new concrete. This method not only reduces waste but also significantly cuts down on emissions from both concrete and steel production1.

How It Works

  1. Electric Arc Furnaces (EAFs): The researchers adapted electrically-powered arc furnaces, commonly used for steel recycling, to recycle cement. These EAFs can simultaneously recycle both steel and cement, making the process more efficient.

  2. Reactivation: The chemistry behind this innovation is well-established. By exposing used cement to high temperatures again, it can be reactivated. The EAFs provide the necessary heat, allowing the researchers to produce recycled cement at scale for the first time.

  3. Cost-Effectiveness: Importantly, this method doesn’t add significant costs to concrete or steel production. It’s a win-win situation: reduced emissions and cost savings.

  4. Zero Emission Cement: The ultimate goal is to power the EAFs with renewable energy, creating a pathway toward zero-emission cement production.

The Impact

Concrete is ubiquitous in our lives – from buildings and bridges to roads and dams. Finding a scalable, cost-effective way to reduce concrete emissions while meeting global demand is a critical decarbonization challenge. The Cambridge researchers’ method offers hope for a more sustainable future. Imagine a world where we can build without contributing to climate change – that’s the promise of recycled cement.


As we strive for a net-zero carbon future, innovations like this one are essential. The Cambridge team’s discovery demonstrates that even seemingly unchangeable industries can evolve. By recovering used cement, we take a significant step toward greener construction practices. Let’s embrace these breakthroughs and build a better world – one recycled cement block at a time12.

Remember, every small change adds up. Perhaps soon, our cities will rise on foundations of recycled cement, leaving a lighter footprint on our planet.

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