Recent PhD graduate receives top dissertation award

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Zhipeng Li, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, has been recognized with the Milton Pikarsky award for the best dissertation in the field of science and technology in transportation studies.

He will receive the national recognition at the Council of University Transportation Centers’ winter meeting in January in Washington DC.

Closeup of Zhipeng Li
Zhipeng Li

Li’s research has focused on the upcycling of fly ash, a byproduct of coal combustion, as a sustainable substitute for traditional cement.

Production of concrete, which is made by combining cement with sand and gravel, contributes about 8% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide because the cement production process needs very high temperatures and a tremendous amount of energy.

Fly ash, meanwhile, has become a significant waste management issue in the United States. More than 50% of fly ash ends up in landfills, where it can easily leach into the nearby environment. Its chemical composition resembles cement, so it could be used as a substitute to reduce carbon emissions associated with the cement industry.

“By adopting this nanotechnology-enhanced geopolymer as a replacement for traditional cement, we make a substantial contribution to the reduction of carbon emissions in the construction industry,” Li said. “This represents a crucial step towards promoting sustainable development.”

Li received his PhD in 2023 and is continuing his research on sustainable concrete substitutes for developing carbon-neutral/negative concrete infrastructure.

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