A super strong and greener concrete has been created with the help of wonder-material graphene, which Exeter University researchers say could help tackle high carbon emissions in the construction sector.
According to the researchers, using graphene creates a concrete twice as strong as standard concrete and four times as water resistant. It would help lower carbon emissions as around half the normal amount of concrete would be needed for construction.
Graphene has been widely hailed as a revolutionary material due to its strength and flexibility; it is only one atom thick but stronger than steel.
To make the concrete, scientists created a graphene nano-additive of graphene dispersed in water. The additive was then used in the usual concrete-making process to enhance the performance of the cement paste by making it stronger.
Previous research using nanotechnology has focused on modifying cement, as concrete is particularly carbon intensive due to high emissions from cement during production. By using graphene in water the team hopes to create a low-cost solution which can be used for large-scale manufacturing.
Exeter University nanoscience and nanotechnology professor Monica Craciun told New Civil Engineer how the technique could reduce carbon emissions from concrete by around 446kg/t, calling it “a game-changer” for the construction industry.
“Effectively you can use less concrete to get the same strength that you would have with a normal concrete,” she said. “You can use around 50% less concrete; in that way you can have a significant reduction of carbon emissions.”
Craciun said the team is working towards securing a new British Standard for the concrete, which should be ready for commercialised production by the end of the year.
“It’s not expensive because the process is very simple. It is basically similar to a kitchen blender where you put graphite, water and soap molecules and you produce graphene,” she added.
Reducing construction’s carbon footprint has become increasingly important for civil engineers: the infrastructure industry is responsible for roughly 16% of the UK’s carbon emissions and influences a further 37%.
In February investors Legal & General wrote to the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) calling on it to show how it is helping to tackle climate change.
The research paper, Ultrahigh Performance nanoengineered Graphene-Concrete Composites for Multifunctional Applications, is published in the journal Advanced Function Materials.