A research group partly financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) is tackling this task.
Discovering the perfect composition of Portland cement, the most common type of cement, was the result of years of experience as well as repeated trials and errors. Emanuela Del Gado, SNSF professor at the Institute for Building Materials of the ETH Zurich, explains that its success is the result of two key factors: its legendary hardness and the availability of its constituent elements.5% of carbon dioxide emissions
Because of the massive ecological impact of cement production, various research groups worldwide are trying to understand why the mixture of this powder and water sets to such hardness.Different densities at the nano level
This is where physicist Emanuela Del Gado enters the scene. She takes a special interest in amorphous materials whose constituents combine in a disorderly manner. Her studies of such materials focus on the nano level. "It is at this level and not at the atomic level that certain material properties are revealed. This also applies to hydrated calcium silicate, a major component of cement which plays an important role in the setting process," she explains.
Until today, all attempts to reduce or partially replace burnt calcium carbonate in the production of cement have resulted in less material hardness. By gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms at the nano level, it is possible to identify physical and chemical parameters and to improve the carbon footprint of concrete without reducing its hardness.(*)E. Masoero, E. Del Gado, R. J.-M. Pellenq, F.-J. Ulm, and S. Yip (2012). Nanostructure and Nanomechanics of Cement: Polydisperse Colloidal Packing. Physical Review Letters. DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.109.155503
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