The Future of Concrete Exists on the Micro-Scale
MIT is leading the environmentally friendly design forefront, researching the ways cement particles contribute to heat reduction, energy efficiency, and long-lasting building solutions. The paste, or the particles, which contribute to cement’s overall structure, is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.
With high hopes, MIT researchers—alongside the industry’s leading innovators, may be able to control cement’s efficiency at the particle level. Researchers, soon, may even be capable of modifying cement’s microstructure themselves—creating a variety of options for designers, crafters and architects alike.
Stronger, Stiffer Concrete
As MIT researchers examined the dynamics of cement particle cohesion, they’ve derived several solutions from ongoing simulations designed to provide measurements based upon age-old environmental problems. The results were striking: Reformation of cement particles, as well as adding polymers to the mix, can fill a cement body’s pores—recycling any material waste into binder material. In essence, this reduces the need for additional cement before installation begins. It also reduces overall material needs during repairs and concrete section add-ons
Reduced production costs aren’t the only benefit, either. This reformed cement is stronger, stiffer and experiences less wear-and-tear than its original structure. Due to the stronger cement’s incredible durability, researchers suggest a brighter future in terms of affordable infrastructure design. Currently, infrastructure repairs and construction options require great amounts of material. Cement consumption is only expected to rise, too, resulting in a higher demand for such economic options.
The Carbon Dioxide Solution
Every year, cities, towns and roads around the world account for the production of 2.3 cubic yards of concrete per person. The production and installation alone, generates over five percent of the world’s industrial carbon dioxide emissions.
Here, new concrete designs formed from current research provide another solution: Reduced CO2 emissions. MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering senior research scientist, Roland Pellenq, suggests that the current CO2 emissions hurdle is a critically high one: To shelter the world’s increasing number of city residents within the next 30 years, enough material would be needed to match the material input of a few hundred New York cities.
As it stands, concrete is the only material capable of meeting such a bill—and the need for economical concrete, more than ever, is critical. Alongside members of the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub, researchers like Pelling are working to reduce concrete’s environmental footprint. By “making more with less,” all parties are contributing to something much more than strong structures. They’re making safe, responsible construction environments.
The Future of Concrete Design and Installation
These innovations are likely to reshape the concrete design forefront, shifting the industry into a small-scale environment of research. Knowledge is as much as a resource as always, of course. Concrete has been a go-to building material for nearly 2,000 years. That said, future concrete designs—rather than contingent on large-scale durability alone—will serve to balance city population needs and energy efficiency on the microscopic scale.