Rock to Road

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Editorial: Creating concrete results

New research continues to be published to improve the popular building material


December 4, 2019
By Andrew Snook

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In recent years, there have been many exciting research papers and projects announced related to improving the characteristics and processes used in the creation of concrete.

Many of the articles have been related to the three R’s: reduce, re-use and recycle. This comes as no surprise since traditional concrete production is responsible for between five and eight per cent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. There’s no doubt it’s one of the world’s most popular building materials. The U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities recently stated that 4.3 trillion tonnes of concrete are used around the globe annually.

Some of the more recently published research related to concrete comes from universities south of the border.

At Drexel University, researchers are using coal ash to improve concrete’s durability and reduce the potential for cracks. According to a Science Daily article, the coal ash – a byproduct produced by coal-fired power plants – can be transformed into an additive in the concrete manufacturing process to “fortify its internal structure by promoting a uniform hardening process from the inside out.”

If the research proves to be effective, this has the potential to reduce the amount of coal ash currently heading to landfills. According the article, tens of millions of tonnes of coal ash currently get landfilled every year.

Last year, Purdue University published a report about the use of cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs), a nanomaterial extracted from wood fibre, in the concrete manufacturing process for improving its stress resistance. By strengthening the concrete, CNC has the potential to reduce the amount of concrete needed for certain types of projects (read all about this in the July/August 2018 digital edition of Rock to Road).

And it’s not just university researchers that are working on improving concrete’s characteristics and carbon footprint. Building materials manufacturers are always interested in improving their products and processes.

In Richmond, B.C., home to Lafarge Canada’s oldest concrete plant in the country, the company built a brand new $20-million alternative fuel co-processing platform last year. This technology has given Lafarge the ability to use anywhere from 50 to 80 per cent low carbon fuel materials in its cement manufacturing process, including construction and demolition waste; wood waste; non-recyclable plastics; and nylon fibres all supplied from B.C.’s Lower Mainland. The system can process up to 100,000 tonnes of low carbon fuels materials annually.

With 4.3 trillion tonnes of concrete being produced, just think of the potential carbon footprint reductions that can be found with just small reductions implemented in the production processes. These researchers and companies certainly have, and they’re just a few of the many organizations trying to improve products while creating positive environmental impacts on the building materials industries.

For those of us lucky enough to attend the 2020 edition of the World of Concrete in Las Vegas this coming February, I’m sure there will be many more opportunities to learn about the latest and greatest technologies, techniques and research underway for continuing to improve upon one of the world’s most popular building materials while reducing its carbon footprint. I hope to see you there!

For those who cannot attend World of Concrete but are interested to learn more about innovative projects and research related to the creation of concrete, visit www.rocktoroad.com to read all about the latest innovations in the building materials industry