How Graphene is Making Building with Concrete Greener

Isabelle Robinson, AZoBuild

New research by the University of Exeter suggests that graphene could make concrete stronger, more water-resistant, and greener than current forms of the building material.

First reliably formed by researchers at the University of Manchester in 2004, Graphene is a form of carbon made of a single layer of a hexagonal lattice of atoms. This research, which won two Nobel prizes, gives the material specific and enhanced characteristics. These include high strength and conductance of heat and electricity.

Concrete, on the other hand, has been used since the Roman era and is the most common of building materials still found today. However, with the increase of pressure to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the industry, researchers are looking for ways to make the production of cement greener. Cement production is known to account for around 6% of the total global carbon emissions. This is due to the chemical processes required to split limestone which releases carbon dioxide.

The so-called super material, graphene, has been added to concrete in order to form a brand new composite material. During testing, the material has shown to be twice as strong as regular concrete and four times more water-resistant.

The researchers made the new concrete by using a new technique. This technique allowed them to suspend a layer of graphene in water. This method means that the concrete can be produced with a high yield and without defects. Though it has yet to be made on mass, the developers think that by using modern manufacturing methods, the concrete can be made at a low cost.

The concrete has a very high water resistance which means that it is perfect to use in construction where maintenance work is limited, such as basements, and will limit the amount of possible corrosion of reinforcement in the concrete elements. Furthermore, the high strength of the material makes for a structure that is more resistant to shocks.

In addition to this, the new concrete can be used to construct durable structures using less concrete than with traditional materials. This means that the buildings can be just as strong but while also reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during the manufacturing of the concrete. Astonishingly, the developers were able to create the composite using only half of the amount of materials.

The developers of the technique to make the material believe that it could be modified to incorporate other nanomaterials. This could cause further innovations surrounding the civil and structural engineering industry.

Monica Craciun, professor of nanoscience at the University of Exeter’s engineering department, states that “Our cities face a growing pressure from global challenges on pollution, sustainable urbanization and resilience to catastrophic natural events. This new composite material is an absolute game-changer in terms of reinforcing traditional concrete to meet these needs.”

In a research paper entitled ‘Ultrahigh Performance nanoengineered Graphene-Concrete Composites for Multifunctional Applications’ published in the journal ‘Advanced Functional Materials’ shows that the results of the samples of the composite that have been tested. So far, the material lives up to the British and European standards.

Dimitar Dimov was the lead author of the study. He was quoted that “Finding greener ways to build is a crucial step forward in reducing carbon emissions around the world. This is a crucial step in the right direction to make a more sustainable construction industry.”

The research, funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, proves that a greener alternative to concrete is possible and may be found on construction sites in the near future.

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