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How Saudi tech is addressing the lack of construction sand

Technology developed at Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah University of Science and Technology converts local sand for manufacturing Kaust/ClimateCrete
ClimateCrete's technology makes the surface of local desert sand rougher and more durable for manufacturing
  • Extraction a global problem
  • 95% of sand unusable for concrete
  • Process makes local sand suitable

A patented technology developed in Saudi Arabia is aiming to increase the use of desert sand in concrete manufacturing.

ClimateCrete’s technology modifies the surface of the fine local sand particles, making a much more durable and stable concrete.

At a time of unprecedented levels of construction in the kingdom, it plans to make concrete production sustainable by using more local sand and less cement, the main source of concrete’s CO2 footprint.

Some 50 billion tonnes of sand and gravel are thought to be extracted for construction every year, according to the UN Environment Programme, enough to build a nine-storey wall around the planet.

However 95 percent of the sand on Earth, including the vast sands of the Arabian Peninsula, is unsuitable due to its fine particle size. 

This means riverbeds across the world are over-mined, causing pollution and flooding, while also shrinking aquifers and deepening droughts. 

The UN Environment Programme said sand extraction is rising about 6 percent annually, faster than levels can be naturally replenished. It has called for an international standard to be developed on how sand is extracted.

Advertisement, Poster, TextKaust/ClimateCrete
95% of the Earth’s sand is unsuitable for construction due to its fine particle size

The ClimateCrete technology was developed in the lab of chemical engineering professor Jorge Gascon at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Kaust). 

“This modification process improves the quality of the concrete and reduces the need for CO2-emitting cement. Transportation costs and associated CO2 emissions are also eliminated,” said Gascon, co-founder of ClimateCrete.

Last week ClimateCrete announced the close of a $3.3 million series A funding round and the appointment of its first CEO, Peter Hadrovic.

ClimateCrete said it is delivering its first prototypes for concrete production to partners in Saudi Arabia.

Gascon added that the opportunity for ClimateCrete is vast within both the global construction aggregates market, worth $400 billion, and the booming Saudi real estate and infrastructure projects landscape.

Jorge Gascon (centre) with the co-founder of ClimateCrete Juan Manuel Colom (left) and Anastasiya Bavykina, research scientist at Kaust’s Catalysis CentreKaust/ClimateCrete
Jorge Gascon (centre) with ClimateCrete co-founders Juan Manuel Colom (left) and research scientist Anastasiya Bavykina, at Kaust’s Catalysis Centre

Ian Riley, CEO of the World Cement Association, told AGBI: “It will be interesting to see if the technology developed at Kaust can be scaled up to be feasible in production.

“There is a shortage of natural sand suitable for concrete in many countries,” he added. “This shortage is largely overcome in most places by the use of manufactured sand that is made from rock-like aggregates.”

Saudi Arabia has signed off on $78 billion of construction projects so far this year. 

William McDonough, co-founder and Kaust distinguished research professor, said the adoption of this technology presents an “immense opportunity” for Saudi Arabia and will help it to reach its target to become carbon-neutral by 2060.

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