Cement may not seem like a high-tech subject, but it hasn’t been overlooked by modern technology. Scientists are now discussing the potential of programmable cement in creating stronger, more economical building projects. Not only will this reduce the manufacturing of cement and its stress on the environment, but construction may someday have bendable, self-healing concrete.
A team at Rice University has come up with a method for controlling the shape of cement particles. This allows them to directly affect properties of the finished concrete. It can become stronger, more eco-friendly and last even longer.
Smart concrete will help future generations as more of the population drifts from the countryside into the concrete landscape of large cities and suburbs. Common cement has been around for much of human history, but the basic mixture has undergone significant modifications over the past century. The ability to manipulate cement particles will allow the industry to make concretes that are stronger, more resilient or less porous.
Here’s How It Works
Scientists at Rice University began by studying calcium-silicate hydrates (CSH) and how they crystallize in mixing cement at a microscopic scale. They were eventually able to produce CSH particles to specified shapes. This was done through a process of adding surface compounds and calcium silicates with positive or negative charges for better bonding. The new mix is then subjected to treatment with carbon dioxide and ultrasound.
By varying the amount of silica, the researchers were able to produce smaller cubes and spheroid particles at low densities, and larger, more complex structures at high densities. These larger shapes were able to form around the “seed” particles. The process was refined even more through trials with temperature, concentrations and time of treatment.
Random blobs of CSH can now be crystallized into cubes, prisms, rhomboids and other microstructures that can be compacted and linked to form much stronger bonding. The Rice team was able to chart an extensive morphology around programmable cement processes, which will be shared with the concrete industry to develop concretes for a variety of needs.
This leads to a cement that is not only more resistant to water after curing, but also less likely to suffer from water damage within the mix. Denser cement also helps to protect steel structural reinforcements.
Because the cement is stronger, less of it will be required, leading to lower building costs. Less usage also reduces the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere by cement manufacturing, one of the major sources of this threat to the environment.
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