What adds another dimension to this durability-sustainability R&D strive is the
growing consciousness about environmental issues. We are beginning to not just look
at cement differently but are working towards making new environmental-friendly
building materials that involve concrete. New cements that have reduced environmental
impact are already being used worldwide; what we need to develop are newer models
that support these new-age materials and new durability concepts for design, based
on performance requirements.
On the table, the Billy Earl Dade Middle School project, a replacement school for
the Dallas Independent School District, assessed and concluded a 14-month construction
period. However due to time constraints, when the officials asked for the project
to be cut short by 4 months, the construction team faced a major concrete drying
problem. After much consideration, the team selected the Aridus Rapid Drying Concrete.
It is a ready-mix that helps prevent moisture-related flooring failures and is known
for fast drying, compressive strength, and low permeability as the base concrete
material. In just 21 days after the concrete was poured, the crew confidently installed
the final flooring – the students had a new school to go to in the fall. Regular
cement on the other hand, would have extended the project's completion by 4 more
In another leap in R&D endeavours, researchers in Belgium and the Netherlands are
working on a biological self-healing concrete. This concrete has bacterial spores
embedded within; when cracks develop in the concrete, the bacteria are exposed to
water and oxygen and begin to metabolize the calcium lactate or urea into calcium
carbonate (limestone). The limestone fills the cracks and prevents moisture from
seeping into the cement.
Apart from R&D, technology too has played an important role in cementing new ideas
in the use of concrete. It is now widely known that adding optical fibres to a concrete
mix makes the concrete translucent. Now no longer opaque, see-through concrete is
definitely a possibility.
Reactive Powder Concrete is another variation with huge potential. It comes with
ultra-high strength without using coarse aggregates and is capable of reaching compressive
strengths of 30,000 pounds per square inch (psi). Mixed with steel and synthetic
fibres, this concrete even attains enviable tensile strength.
Image source: www.gizmag.com/berkeley-researchers-pioneer-powder-based-concrete-3d-printing/36515/pictures#10
A conversation on innovative concrete applications will be incomplete without a
mention of Concrete Printing – a concept that sounds right out of futuristic science
fiction. A team in Loughborough University has developed a 3-D printer that uses
a special type of cement that gets deposited in layers as per precise computer generated
instructions. The greatest benefit of this process is greater precision, which in
turn leads to reduced waste and less carbon dioxide emissions. One can also greatly
reduce the costs involved in transportation and energy because printing can be enabled
onsite with ease.
In a nutshell, what the human imagination can make of concrete can be summed up
in three simple words: Anything is possible.
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