Decarbonizing the Construction and Mining Industry: The Promise of Biocement Technology

Mining Microbiome, Construction,

Making cement is highly energy-intensive, but it an essential material…

Clay and limestone are heated to more than 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, the chemical process of making cement also produces significant amounts of carbon dioxide. Altogether, roughly 1,370 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) is produced for every metric ton of cement manufactured, according to researchers.

The Global Cement and Concrete Association forecasted there will be an increase from the current 14. billion m3 of concrete used to ~20 billion m3 in 2050. The CO2 emissions associated with this volume of concrete have also been calculated, assuming current practice, and amount to 3.8Gt CO2 emissions.

What if we could harness natural process to produce the materials we need?

Md Al Imran is a Postdoctoral Researcher with the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. His research focuses on sustainable and nature inspired methods for mine tailings stabilization using biocementation and decarbonization technology. 

He is currently working on biocement as a way to reduce carbon emissions (CO2) in the concrete and mining industries and to promote eco-friendly construction materials. Recently, BRIMM had a chance to sit down with Imran to ask about his research and his journey to BRIMM at the University of British Columbia.

BRIMM: Your area of research focuses on Biocementation with seawalls, what does that mean for the uneducated?

Imran: My work focused on decarbonization using biocement technology. Biocement, also known as microbial cement or biomineralization, is a type of cement produced through biological processes, often involving microorganisms.

Unlike traditional cement, which is typically manufactured through energy-intensive processes that release significant amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, biocement is considered more environmentally friendly because it can be produced using natural materials and fewer energy resources.

BRIMM: How did you come to research this? 

Imran: So I have to go back to my undergraduate studies. I always cared about the environment. So my thinking was all about climate change, increasing global carbon emissions and other environmental impacts. 

I was eager to learn how I can contribute my knowledge effectively to solve this problem and what would be the best way to do it? My motivation to work with decarbonization technology i.e. biocement as an applied science researcher often stems from a combination of environmental consciousness, a desire to innovate, the appeal of sustainable solutions, intellectual curiosity, and the potential for real-world impact on a critical industry.

BRIMM: Is there a very specific implication for biocementation and the mining industry?

Imran: There are two questions here. One is where we can apply this cementation technology. The next question is how we can use this by cementation technology for the mining industry.

Biocementation has broad implications for the mining and construction and other industries particularly in the context of environmental sustainability and safety. For instance, this technology could be used for mine waste stabilization, dust suppression, erosion control, mine closure and environmental remediation, revegetation and habitat restoration, reducing environmental footprint and so on.

In some cases, using bio cementation for stabilization and dust control can be cost-effective compared to traditional methods like chemical additives or physical structures. This cost efficiency can be an attractive option for mining companies looking to minimize expenses.

It’s important to note that the application of biocementation in the mining industry may vary depending on factors such as the type of mining operation, local environmental regulations, and the specific challenges faced by the mining site.

What I can say is, biocementation has the potential to address several environmental and safety concerns associated with mining activities, making it an area of interest for sustainable mining practices to come.

BRIMM: What do you think is what has been the most difficult thing for you to communicate about your work?

Imran: The main challenge for this research is the need to spread awareness and knowledge of biocement technology. Many people in the mining and construction industries may not be familiar with this sustainable solution. The challenge is to educate and inform industry professionals about biocement’s potential benefits, including its environmental friendliness and cost-effectiveness. The aim is to encourage the industry to embrace this technology as part of a broader effort to reduce carbon emissions and promote sustainability.

BRIMM: Was there any particular reason why you chose UBC and to work with BRIMM?

Imran: UBC is renowned for its excellent research programs, particularly in fields such as materials science, mining, environmental engineering, and sustainability and BRIMM bringing all the outstanding researchers and industries to a one table to work collaboratively. 

So interdisciplinary collaboration between academia and industry, partnerships, funding opportunities and geographic relevance strongly motivated me to work with BRIMM. Actually, this is a great opportunity for me as well with a diversified research platform. 

BRIMM: Thank you Imran for your time and we look forward to seeing you develop your research here at UBC.

The biocementation project helps to demonstrate the value of using genomics and analytical data generated by the Mining Microbiome Analysis Platform (M-MAP).  M-MAP is funded by a consortium of industry and government partners, including the Canadian Digital Technology Supercluster. Using MMAP, we can screen and identify microbial organisms from mine tailings  active in biocementation processes.

If you would like to learn more about BRIMM at UBC, please reach out to us or subscribe to our newsletter.

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