Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Diamonds and dust for better cement

13.12.2011
Structural studies at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source could point to reduced carbon emissions and stronger cements

It's no surprise that humans the world over use more water, by volume, than any other material. But in second place, at over 17 billion tons consumed each year, comes concrete made with Portland cement.


In nanoscale studies of calcium-silicate-hydrate, a binder critical to the strength and durability of Portland cement, the mineral tobermorite is a perfect stand-in for determining the crystal structure of this extraordinarily complex material. Highly structured layers of calcium and oxygen atoms alternate with "interlayers" of silicon, oxygen, calcium, and water molecules, where disorder may occur and adversely affect the material's properties. Credit: Crystal structure of 14Å tobermorite as refined by Bonaccorsi et al

Portland cement provides the essential binder for strong, versatile concrete; its basic materials are found in many places around the globe; and, at about $100 a ton, it's relatively cheap. Making it, however, releases massive amounts of carbon dioxide, accounting for more than five percent of the total CO2 emissions from human activity.

"Portland cement is the most important building material in the world," says Paulo Monteiro, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, "but if we are going to find ways to use it more efficiently – or just as important, search for practical alternatives – we need a full understanding of its structure on the nanoscale." To this end Monteiro has teamed with researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Light Source (ALS) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Most recently, at ALS beamline 12.2.2, Monteiro and his colleagues gradually squeezed specks of fine dust of the mineral tobermorite between faces of two diamonds in a diamond anvil cell, until they achieved pressures like those 100 miles below the surface of Earth. This was the first experiment to determine tobermorite's bulk modulus – its "stiffness" – from diffraction patterns obtained by sending a bright beam of x rays through the sample, revealing how its structure changed as the pressure increased.

The results, which will appear in Cement and Concrete Research and are now available online to subscribers, led to new insights into calcium-silicate-hydrate (C S H), the material primarily responsible for the strength and durability of concrete made with Portland cement.

Cement on the nanoscale

Portland cement is made by baking limestone (calcium carbonate) and clay (silicates) in a kiln at over 1400 degrees Celsius to make "clinker," which is then ground to a powder. When the powder is mixed with water, calcium-silicate-hydrate (C-S-H) is formed, which, although poorly crystallized, is a binder critical to the strength and durability of the cement paste.

"We and many other groups have developed sophisticated computer models to understand the crystal structure and mechanical behavior of C S H, based on observations of how it performs," says Monteiro. "But we're the only group that uses minerals to validate the results of our models with experimental results."

Despite the many studies and vast literature on cements and their components, the atomic scale structure of C-S-H, owing to its high complexity, is still imperfectly known. While the mineral tobermorite, a calcium silicate hydrate named for a quaint village on the Scottish Isle of Mull, is far less common than the makings of Portland cement, one of its structures, designated 14Å tobermorite, is a perfect stand in for C-S-H in nanoscale studies.

The studies were performed at beamline 12.2.2, the California High-Pressure Science Observatory (Calipso), which is supported by the National Science Foundation. Calipso is equipped with a choice of diamond anvil cells, arranged so the x-ray beam passes through the diamonds and the sample chamber between them. The diffracted x-rays fall on a CCD detector, and the diffraction patterns can be used to determine the structure of the material in the cells.

The tiny sample of tobermorite that Monteiro's team used at the ALS originally came from Southern California and was obtained from the Los Angeles County Museum. The researchers ground it to a fine powder and suspended it in liquid so that the diamond anvil cell would apply even hydrostatic pressure to every grain in the sample chamber – an opening in a metal gasket only 180 millionths of a meter in diameter.

"While it's possible to do x-ray diffraction with diamond anvil cells on a laboratory bench," says ALS beamline scientist Simon Clark, a co-author of the research, "you can't deal with samples this small without the brightness of a synchrotron light source. Even if you could, what takes eight hours in the lab we can do in half a minute – although we usually take at least a minute so the researchers can write everything down in their notebooks."

Putting on the squeeze

As the experiments proceeded, the flattened points of the cell's two diamonds were slowly tightened, concentrating pressure on the gasket and the contents of the sample chamber. The x-ray diffraction patterns revealed any changes in the arrangement of atoms in the crystal structure.

Says Monteiro, "The diffraction patterns give us the lattice parameters of the tobermorite structure." Lattice parameters allow the volume of the unit cells, the material's fundamental atomic arrangements, to be calculated in three directions. "We watch how the lattice parameters change as the pressure changes, using them as a strain gauge. By knowing the applied pressure in the anvil cell, we can compute the bulk modulus."

In C-S-H the calcium, silicon, and oxygen atoms are arranged in a stack of flat layers. Highly structured layers of calcium and oxygen atoms alternate with "interlayers" of silicon, oxygen, calcium, and water molecules. In the plane of the layers (the a and b directions of the lattice parameters), tobermorite is very stiff indeed, changing very little as pressure increases. Perpendicular to the plane, along the c-axis, tobermorite is more compressible, but not by much.

Even in the c direction, pure tobermorite is stiffer than a synthetic version of C-S-H the Monteiro team also tested, and to which they compared it. The calcium-oxygen layers in the synthetic C-S-H were similar to those in the tobermorite, so when altered silicon chains were deliberately introduced into the synthetic in order to mimic the disorder of natural C S H, it still retained its stiffness in the a-b plane. But along the c-axis, the disordered synthetic C-S-H grew significantly more squeezable.

"It's the interlayers that compress, and only along the c-axis," says Monteiro. "Differences in interlayer spacing, degrees of disorder in the silicon chains, additional calcium ions, and water molecules all make the bulk modulus of the two materials virtually the same in the a-b plane, but different along the c axis. The discovery suggests a number of possibilities for improving the performance of cement – for example, one might introduce special polymers into the C-S-H interlayers to shape its behavior. This will certainly be an area for our future research."

"Experimental determination of bulk modulus of 14Å tobermorite using high pressure synchrotron x-ray diffraction," by Jae Eun Oh, Simon M. Clark, Hans-Rudolf Wenk, and Paulo J.M. Monteiro, will appear in Cement and Concrete Research (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/aip/00088846) and is available online to subscribers at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0008884611002894.

This work was supported in part by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The Advanced Light Source is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

The Advanced Light Source is a third-generation synchrotron light source producing light in the x-ray region of the spectrum that is a billion times brighter than the sun. A DOE national user facility, the ALS attracts scientists from around the world and supports its users in doing outstanding science in a safe environment. For more information visit www-als.lbl.gov/.

DOE's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit the Office of Science website at http://science.energy.gov/.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world's most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab's scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel prizes. The University of California manages Berkeley Lab for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. For more, visit www.lbl.gov.

Paul Preuss | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.lbl.gov

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht Researchers invent process to make sustainable rubber, plastics
25.04.2017 | University of Delaware

nachricht Nanoimprinted hyperlens array: Paving the way for practical super-resolution imaging
24.04.2017 | Pohang University of Science & Technology (POSTECH)

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA examines newly formed Tropical Depression 3W in 3-D

26.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

New High-Performance Center Translational Medical Engineering

26.04.2017 | Health and Medicine

NASA's Fermi catches gamma-ray flashes from tropical storms

25.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>