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Researching a New Cement Recipe

Monday, June 6, 2016

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Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are on the hunt for a new bio-inspired recipe for cement paste could make buildings, bridges and other structures more sustainable and durable.

The scientists, headed up by MIT’s Oral Buyukozturk, published their research in the journal Construction and Building Materials.

The idea: Look at the structures of strong, durable solids that occur in nature, and compare them on every level with cement paste, to start to create a new way of looking at cement formulation.

Bone and Nacre

The researchers looked at the structures of natural materials like bone, sponges and nacre, a component of mollusk shells, to begin to try to understand how they might influence the way cement is made.

The key to these materials’ durability, they say, is the way their components are structured on every scale, from the nano level to the visible level.

Illustration from MIT
Christine Daniloff / MIT

The idea behind the research is to look at the structures of strong, durable solids that occur in nature, and compare them on every level with cement paste, to start to create a new way of looking at cement formulation.

“These materials are assembled in a fascinating fashion, with simple constituents arranging in complex geometric configurations that are beautiful to observe,” Buyukozturk says.

“We want to see what kinds of micromechanisms exist within them that provide such superior properties, and how we can adopt a similar building-block-based approach for concrete.”

The new research doesn’t have an answer just yet for how to build the concrete of the future—it’s just a starting point, to begin to rethink how we make concrete. A material that’s engineered on multiple levels could be more sustainable and longer-lasting than traditional concrete.

Scaling Up

“It could lead to more durable roads, bridges, structures, reduce the carbon and energy footprint, and even enable us to sequester carbon dioxide as the material is made,” explained Markus Buehler, head of MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“Implementing nanotechnology in concrete is one powerful example [of how] to scale up the power of nanoscience to solve grand engineering challenges.”

MIT chart
MIT

The key to the materials’ durability, the researchers say, is the way their components are structured on every scale, from the nano level to the visible level.

In addition to Byukozturk and Buehler, the paper is authored by graduate students Steven Palkovic (the study’s lead author) and Dieter Brommer, research scientist Kunal Kupwade-Patil, and assistant professor Admir Masic.

“Hopefully this will lead us to some sort of recipe for more sustainable concrete,” Buyukozturk says. “Typically, buildings and bridges are given a certain design life. Can we extend that design life maybe twice or three times? That’s what we aim for. Our framework puts it all on paper, in a very concrete way, for engineers to use.”

   

Tagged categories: Cement; concrete; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Nanotechnology; Research

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