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Professor Jason Trembly awarded $1 million in grants for Sustainable Construction Materials

The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced $8.7 million in awards to “Develop Emerging Carbon-Based Building and Construction Materials,” with OHIO’s Jason Trembly receiving two $500,000 grants for two separate projects focused on addressing climate change and sustainability issues surrounding construction and infrastructure.

Trembly, Russ professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, was awarded the two grants for his projects focused on developing carbon foam and carbon composite materials as alternatives to existing construction materials. 

“Over the past decades, there has been a big focus on climate change impacts of the energy and transportation sectors,” Trembly said. “However, one of the areas that hasn’t been addressed are the actual materials being used in construction. If you look at construction over the past 50 years, typically energy and CO2 emissions-intensive materials are being used. Through our projects, we are developing advanced carbon-based materials that are less energy- and emissions-intensive, so we help increase sustainability and alleviate greenhouse potential associated with construction activities.”

Trembly said the team plans to develop carbon foam cladding materials for residential and commercial building applications. This project will conduct bench-scale manufacturing trials to assess material properties and technical feasibility for cladding and related applications, as well as develop molecular dynamic simulations to predict properties of carbon foam. This application will allow beneficial reuse of legacy mining wastes, while creating new manufacturing jobs.

Cladding is the first application, but Trembly and his team are also looking at other applications like using the carbon-based foams for insulation, aerospace, and battery applications.

“Replacing cement-based materials with carbon-based alternatives, if successful, could reduce manufacturing energy requirements and CO2 emissions by 70% and 60% respectively, while providing consumers with a better product price point,” Trembly said.

As for plastic piping, Trembly and his team plan to develop composite formulations containing at least 70% carbon by weight that offer cost, performance and environmental benefits over existing plastic pipe infrastructure materials. The team’s formulations have been shown to possess lower manufacturing costs and equivalent or superior properties compared to existing decking products and they hope to extend these benefits into the piping market.

“We’ve had a lot of success with this research,” Trembly added. “Over the summer, the U.S. Secretary of Energy highlighted our work and the Assistant Secretary for Energy testified in front of Congress, highlighting the work we’re doing here regarding sustainable materials.”

The projects include an interdisciplinary team of OHIO researchers and industrial partners working to develop these materials. David Drabold, OHIO Distinguished Professor of Physics in the College of Arts and Sciences, Yahya Al-Majali, mechanical engineering doctoral candidate, CONSOL Energy Inc., and CFOAM LLC are collaborating on developing the carbon foam materials, and Damilola Daramola, OHIO assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, Issam Khoury, assistant professor of civil engineering, CONSOL Energy Inc., and Engineered Profiles LLC are collaborating to develop piping materials.

“As the global population grows, so will home and building construction activity,” Trembly said. “And we hope through creating these sustainable materials, we can make an impact on the environment while generating jobs and helping support the economy.”

January 22, 2021
Staff reports