McNeese State University senior civil engineering student Juan Castano recently presented his research at Harvard University’s National Collegiate Research Conference. Castano’s presentation, titled “Effects of Recycled Concrete Aggregates on the Fresh and Hardened Properties of Self-Consolidating Concrete for Precast Concrete Applications,” explores how to create more ecologically sustainable concrete.
“Two of the biggest issues facing humanity are climate change and pollution,” says Castano. “A lot of focus for solving these issues concentrates on energy efficiency and electrical engineering, but when I was researching, I learned that the construction industry contributes 8% of global CO2 emissions. You never see anything on the news about people trying to make the construction industry more sustainable, so that’s what sparked my interest.”
In the past two years, McNeese’s Department of Engineering and Computer Science has received a $140,000 grant from the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute (PCI) Foundation, as well as a $47,000 grant from the National Precast Concrete Association (NPCA), to create a PCI/NPCA Studio at McNeese. As a part of these grants, and overseen by associate professor of civil engineering Dr. Ahmed Abdel-Mohti, Castano began investigating how to make precast concrete more environmentally friendly – especially since the production of precast concrete tends to create more CO2 than traditional concrete, making it an even worse ecological offender. As precast concrete is made with an aggregate of sand and gravel, Castano investigated if some of this aggregate could be replaced by recycled material.
“Usually when buildings or parking lots are demolished, the concrete is crushed up and thrown in a landfill,” he says. “I took that crushed concrete and used it as the aggregate for new concrete to see if this could be a greener alternative. I’ve found that this process actually improves the early strength of the concrete and that you can replace up to 50% of the raw aggregate with recycled before you see any significant decrease in strength.”
Castano presented his research at the University of Louisiana – Lafayette’s Undergraduate Research Conference and then applied to Harvard University’s National Collegiate Research Conference, where he was accepted for a poster presentation.
“There were experts and guest speakers from a lot of different universities and disciplines there to talk to us and see us present,” he says. “Since it was Harvard, most of the other students attending were from other Ivy League universities and some of the flagship schools, and then here I was from McNeese! It was great to get to know some of the other students and talk to them and hear about their research.”
From Pereira, Colombia, Castano first learned about McNeese as a foreign exchange student at Sulphur High School. “I came to McNeese and talked to some of the faculty members, and one of the things that I learned was that, unlike bigger schools, at McNeese you actually can work one-on-one with professors. That’s what made me want to come,” he says. “In my experience, that’s exactly what it’s been like. I’ve been researching for a year with Dr. Mohti, and I doubt I would have been able to do that at another school.”
Castano says that he’s already applied to graduate school and has had multiple acceptances, though he still hasn’t decided where he’s going to attend. Wherever he ends up, he says that he’s excited to continue his research on recycling and concrete sustainability, as well as structural resiliency.
“Especially after seeing how the hurricanes affected Lake Charles and our local infrastructure, my goal in the industry is to produce and design better infrastructure that is more sustainable and more resilient,” he says.
“I’m grateful for my time at McNeese,” he adds. “I have had amazing professors and the opportunity to do this research and go to these events. If you want to succeed, you will be able to succeed through McNeese.”