Matthew Sparkes is a writer.
Facebook's parent company, Meta, has used artificial intelligence to develop a new way of creating concrete which it claims produces 40 per cent less carbon emissions than standard mixtures and is already using it in its latest data centre. Concrete mixtures with similar emissions are already used across Europe, and constructing new buildings is incompatible with reducing carbon pollution.
The world's most powerful artificial intelligence-specific supercomputer is being built by Meta. The company wants to develop better speech-recognition tools, automatically translate between different languages, and build a 3D virtual metaverse, but it is also using artificial intelligence to work on projects such as concrete production.
This construction material is a major contributor to the company's carbon footprint as it builds data centres around the world for its online services. Around 8 per cent of global carbon emissions can be attributed to the production and use of concrete.
Basic concrete is a mix of cement and gravel. Commercial concrete can contain hundreds of ingredients to achieve desired strength. Fly ash, a by-product of burning coal, and slag, which is a by-product of manufacturing steel, are some of the alternatives to cement that have a smaller carbon footprint.
Meta researchers used the Concrete Compressive Strength Data Set to train an artificial intelligence model to find the optimal recipe for a given use. The strength of the concrete after curing for a week and a month is included. The artificial intelligence was able to find examples that matched a minimum strength but also had the lowest emissions.
The five most promising combinations were tested in a laboratory. The company said in a post that it would be difficult to manually discover such combinations, but that it was done within weeks. The authors say that coming up with such combinations is pushing the boundaries of human creativity.
Walter Kaufmann at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology says that the claimed reduction in carbon emissions is calculated in comparison with a concrete made using pure Portland cement produced entirely with fossil fuel energy and no replacement material at all.
In western Europe, concretes similar to the one referenced in the paper stopped being used 25 years ago. He says that the emissions of the novel concretes described in the paper correspond to Swiss average concrete.
Concrete is a significant contributor to our embodied carbon and is being used in limited parts of Meta's new data centre.
According to Phil Purnell, the goal of manufacturers has been to reduce cement content in concrete because it is the most expensive part of the mixture and it is not good for the environment.
If you really want to decarbonise the built environment, you should stop building stuff. He says that it is literally that simple.
There is a reference to arxiv.org.
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