Facebook’s parent company, Meta, has used AI to develop a new way of creating concrete which it claims produces 40 percent less carbon emissions than standard mixtures, and is already using it in its latest data centre. However, experts say that concrete mixtures with similar emissions are already in use across Europe, and that constructing new buildings is incompatible with reducing carbon pollution.

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Meta is investing heavily in AI research, including building the world’s most powerful AI-specific supercomputer, which aims to develop better speech-recognition tools, automatically translate between different languages, and help build a 3D virtual metaverse.

Meta says that by reducing concrete emissions, they will be able to significantly reduce their carbon footprint as they build data centres around the world for their online services.

The production and use of concrete is responsible for around 8 percent of global carbon emissions.

Because cement is responsible for a large part of concrete’s carbon emissions, alternatives to this component with a smaller but still sizeable carbon footprint such as fly ash, a by-product of burning coal, and slag, which is a by-product of manufacturing steel, are commonly used.

To train the AI model to find the optimal  concrete recipe, Meta researchers used a resource which listed various properties of 1030 different concrete mixtures called the Concrete Compressive Strength Data Set.

Meta took the five most promising mixtures and tested them in a laboratory. The company said in a recent blog post that manually discovering such mixtures would be challenging, but that its AI approach completed the task “within weeks”.

Walter Kaufmann at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich said 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.

Phil Purnell at the University of Leeds, UK, said that minimising cement content in concrete has been a goal of manufacturers for some time because it is the most expensive part of the mixture, and that minimising carbon emissions in reality means not creating new buildings.

What do you think? Is Meta’s use of AI a sustainable way of reducing emissions moving forward?

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