Sam Draper and Barney Shanks are the winners of the 2022 Obel Award, an international architecture prize awarded annually by the Henrik Frode Obel Foundation, which this year focused on carbon-neutral projects and products. The two PhD students from Imperial College London presented a technology, called Seratech, that produces zero-emission concrete while using existing production processes.
“It’s such an honor to receive the Obel Award - said Draper -. This visibility will help us attract people in industry and scale our technology – and scale it rapidly. Humanity can’t afford to spend 20–50 years scaling the technology to give us sustainable materials. It needs to be now.”
A similar hope was expressed by the award jury, which spoke about encouraging innovative, cross-disciplinary solutions to the challenges of climate change.
The importance of the technology developed by the two researchers lies in its effect on production processes and the significant carbon footprint of concrete as a material that’s so widely used in the construction industry. A sustainable manufacturing strategy such as this one has the potential to become a key technology in the future. The idea behind Seratech is to capture carbon during various industrial production processes directly from industrial flues so that the end product has a lower CO2 footprint. By consuming olivine and CO2 from flue gases, Seratech then produces silica and magnesium carbonate, both of which are also used in the construction industry. Silica can be used as a supplementary cementitious material, making it possible to reduce the amount of Portland cement used in concrete by up to 40%. This could mean a reduction of some three billion tons of CO2 every year, as well as producing a carbon neutral product. Plus, the capture and storage of carbon made possible by Seratech is more efficient and costs less, with the process storing CO2 as a stable mineral, eliminating the need for expensive liquefaction, transport, or geological storage.
Magnesium carbonate, on the other hand, can be used as an alternative material in architecture, helping to reduce its overall environmental impact.
The technology was developed by a team of researchers, chemists, and scientists, to whom Shanks expressed his gratitude, adding: “We want to highlight the importance of collaboration between academia, industry, and the work of architects. That’s why the Obel Award is great, because it’s essentially forcing this collaboration, making us take notice of each other, and getting that interdisciplinary work happening. I can’t wait to see some brilliant architects take this material and do some weird and wonderful things with it.”
The awards ceremony will take place at the Utzon Center in Aalborg, Denmark, on October 25, 2022. The winners will receive a prize of €100,000 and a unique artwork by artist Tomás Saraceno.
The jury – composed of Martha Schwartz, Kjetil Traedal Thorsen, Louis Becker, Xu Tiantian, and Dr. Wilhelm Vossenkuhl – stated:
“It is necessary to encourage ambitious, cross-disciplinary ideas that do not just provide a temporary or small-scale fix nor an unrealistic shift in current practices. It is our wish that the Obel Award acts as an incentive and inspiration to everyone in the construction industry to work together for a zero-carbon future.”
From October 2022, Martha Thorne has been appointed to set up a teaching fellowship programme for the Obel Award, and to advise the Foundation in the development of new initiatives related to architectural education and the future of the built environment.
Martha Thorne said: “I am thrilled to be able to collaborate, as Senior Advisor, with the charitable foundation of the Obel Award on its new initiatives, especially in the field of education. I believe that our built environment is key in transforming societies, especially during the challenging times we are facing. The Obel Award generously recognizes impactful contributions in the field - concepts, projects and initiatives - that can be shared, adapted and that inspire us to improve our cities and the environments we inhabit.”
>>> Find out more about the Obel Award.
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All images courtesy of Henrik Frode Obel Foundation
Portrait of the jury © Emilie Koefoed