Researchers at the University of Exeter have recently succeeded in “enriching” one of the oldest building materials — concrete — with the atom-thick “supermaterial” graphene, making it more than twice as strong and four times more water-resistant, as compared to its regular state.
The versatility and durability of concrete is evidenced by the countless structures built during Ancient Roman times which survive to this day.
However, the production of concrete and cement (which is an ingredient of the former) is fairly damaging to the natural environment as the process requires not only a good deal amount of energy, but also the break-up of limestone, thereby releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Luckily, researchers behind the concrete-graphene composite material claim it shines even in this regard.
In contrast to previous attempts to employ nanotechnology in concrete, which have focused on modifying the existing components of cement, the new technique allows a layer of graphene to be suspended in water.
Furthermore, replacing half of the concrete with graphene could measurably reduce greenhouse gas emissions and allow for construction in areas that are hard to reach for maintenance.
According to the paper out in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, the new technique could be scaled up at a relatively low cost, and replicated in future research using different materials.
“Our cities face a growing pressure from global challenges on pollution, sustainable urbanisation and resilience to catastrophic natural events,” said Monica Craciun, a professor of nanoscience at Exeter. “This new composite material is an absolute game-changer in terms of reinforcing traditional concrete to meet these needs.”
Preliminary tests have shown the new material to be in compliance with both European and British standards, which means there shouldn’t be any significant problems with regards to bringing it on site.
“Finding greener ways to build is a crucial step forward in reducing carbon emissions around the world,” said lead author on the study Dimitar Dimov. “This is a crucial step in the right direction to make a more sustainable construction industry.”
As it stands, cement-making accounts for as many as 6% of global carbon emissions.