Behind the Scenes at the CarbonCure Concrete Research Lab

CarbonCure has a world-class research team. The team was instrumental in building CarbonCure’s original technology for masonry, and continues to research and develop new products — like the Carbon XPRIZE-winning technology — to help us reach our goal of reducing and removing 500 million tonnes of CO2 from the built environment annually by 2030. 

When they’re not coming up with innovative ways to decarbonize the concrete industry, the members of the research team spend their time working with CarbonCure customers to test various concrete mixes and ensure maximum performance. 

We caught up with the team to see what a busy day at the CarbonCure research lab in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia truly looks like.

A Day in the Life of a CarbonCure Researcher

Every day starts with a group meeting to cover off what each individual will focus on for the day. There is generally a range of activities being performed in the lab on any given day including:

  • Making concrete
  • Testing concrete
  • Testing cement.

Research Engineer Ryan Muir and Concrete Technician Adam Meade mix the concrete prior to testing.

Making Concrete

Before making concrete the research team measures the concrete aggregates, stone and sand, cement, water, and admixtures. According to Dr. Sean Monkman, SVP of Technology Development at CarbonCure, this is an important step because making concrete is just like baking a cake. “You need your mise en place — prepare your workplace, prepare your equipment, get your ingredients ready to go, and read your recipe,” said Sean.

The team makes a range of concrete, many with CarbonCure’s CO2 technology added and some with CarbonCure’s reclaimed water or recycled concrete aggregate added. Once the concrete is made, the testing processes begin.

Testing Concrete

Once the concrete mix is prepared, the team begins its rigorous testing processes, which include compressive strength tests, slump tests to understand its workability, air tests to find out the amount of air content.

Air Testing

Slump Testing

Concrete Technician Adam Meade conducting an air test, and Research Engineer Ryan Muir conducting a slump test.

At the time the fresh concrete is made, the team puts a sample within the isothermal calorimeter to track the hydration heat of the cement samples. This is important in cement systems because it can provide indications of setting time and reaction.

Research Assistant Nicole Burwell preparing samples within the isothermal calorimeter.

The team then makes cylindrical specimens and pours the concrete into molds. The next day, the concrete is de-molded and labeled for future reference. Testing then begins on the hardened properties, primarily compressive strength. Some are tested on the first day and some are stored for later testing on day 7 or 28.

Concrete Lab Technician Caitlyn MacDonald showing the results of a compressive strength test.

Cement Testing

The research team works closely with CarbonCure’s Technical Services and Support (TSS) team to support customers in their implementation and ongoing use of CarbonCure. As part of TSS’s support offering, the team tests the cement of individual customers to understand its reactivity with CO2.

The customer’s cement is mixed with water in a sealed container designed to withstand CO2 pressure. The researchers make CO2 dry ice or ‘snow’ using CarbonCure’s CO2 supply, and then mix it all together in the container until the CO2 is mineralized.

Sometimes, the researchers perform X-ray diffraction (XRD) on the cement ​​to quantify the composition of crystalline samples. XRD is done immediately and again after six hours, one day, three days, seven days, and 28 days to track changes.

Analytical Technician Vishnu Chaudhari adding samples to CarbonCure's XRD machine.

The researchers also conduct thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) to examine the chemistry and content of the cement. Like XRD, TGA is done immediately and again after six hours, one day, three days, seven days, and 28 days. 

CarbonCure's TGA machine.

Finally, the researchers test the reactivity with CO2 (i.e., how much it hydrates/heats) using the isothermal calorimeter. They add five doses of CO2 — 0.05%, 0.1%, 0.2%, 0.3%, 0.4% — and monitor the response of each sample. If they get an increased hydration response from the cement with each dose of CO2, it’s deemed reactive.

Typically, the more the reactive it is, the greater the strength benefits. To date, our lab has examined more than 140 different types of cement and learned a great deal about them along the way.

Many of the cement samples the researchers use to make concrete for testing and analysis.

The Importance of Testing

Every concrete producer has different cement, aggregate, and admixture suppliers. CarbonCure’s Research team plays a key role in supporting producers’ quality control teams by testing each of those ingredients alongside CarbonCure to ensure the best performance.

CarbonCure’s lab is equipped with technology that can help mimic field-like environments by adapting things like temperatures and humidity levels to ensure our lab testing is as close to real-life scenarios as possible.

The Science of Concrete

There’s always something new to learn about concrete at the CarbonCure lab. Our customers always surprise us with new materials, environments, and applications to test.
Our team is always growing and learning. If you’re interested in joining a fun team with lots of exciting research opportunities, visit our careers page for new openings and co-op student placements.

Ohio Cities Create More Green Building Opportunities Thumbnail
March 17, 2023

Ohio Cities Create More Green Building Opportunities

Local governments in Ohio continue to demonstrate their commitment to reducing carbon emissions with climate action plans that support green…
Federal Funding Impacts on Ohio’s Concrete Industry Thumbnail
March 15, 2023

Federal Funding Impacts on Ohio’s Concrete Industry

The federal government’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, with a 50-52% reduction by 2030, has created significant opportunities for…