Adding nitrogen to concrete could significantly lower global levels of potentially dangerous nitrogen oxides (NOx) created by the construction sector in emerging towns and cities, a new study said on Friday.  

According to the study published in the journal Nature Cities, concrete nitrogenation could contribute to a reduction in NOx emissions by 3.4-6.9 megatonnes (Mt) — representing 6 to 13 per cent of industry-related emissions in 2021.

By 2050, the process could reduce NOx by a total of 131-384 Mt. It could be equivalent to 75-260 years potentially lost to premature death and reduced quality of life, estimated in terms of disability-adjusted life years (DALY).

NOx are highly reactive toxic air pollutants which can contribute to acid rain, and ozone layer depletion and pose significant health threats — particularly in relation to respiratory disease — contributing to air pollution-related mortality, the researchers said.

“Cities around the world, particularly those in the global south, are experiencing extensive urban renewal, expansion, and modernisation – all inevitably creating atmospheric pollution,” said co-author Dr Yuli Shan, from the University of Birmingham.

“Between 1970 and 2018, global NOx emissions nearly doubled from 70 Mt to 120 Mt. Addressing and managing these emissions is crucial for enhancing urban health, fostering sustainable industrial growth, and ensuring environmental well-being,” he added.

A group of researchers noted that commercialising nitrogenation is likely to provide better economic and environmental prospects than similar processes relating to carbon dioxide (CO2).

“There is significant potential for concrete in capturing NOx. Applying this technology holds promise for rapidly urbanising and emerging industrial regions, as it can generate substantial economic value and curtail industrial NOx pollution in these areas,” the study`s first author, Ning Zhang from the Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban & Regional Development said.

“The proposed nitrogenated concrete material presents a promising integrated solution for mitigating air pollution and managing construction waste in industrialised regions,” she added.

The researchers noted that the US, China, and Europe are key players with the greatest capacity to contribute in this area.

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