Concrete, being the universal building material of choice for countless structures, also has a huge environmental footprint mostly due to carbon dioxide emissions from the production of cement. That is why researchers are now experimenting with root vegetables and recycled plastic in concrete to see whether this can make it stronger and more sustainable and even power streetlights or air pollution sensors.
Dr Nikola Tošić, a researcher at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain: “The cement industry is working on decarbonising and lowering the footprint from fossil fuels. But the chemical part of carbon dioxide emissions is inevitable unless we come up with (completely) different types of cement.”
Making cement stronger so that less of it is needed is one strategy to reduce its environmental impact. Professor Mohamed Saafi from Lancaster University in the UK and his colleagues are aiming to achieve this goal as part of the B-SMART project.
Prof. Saafi and his team turned to root vegetables for help. They investigated whether waste material from carrots processed to make baby food, or leftovers from beet sugar extraction could be added to cement to strengthen it. By using computer simulations, they were able to see how super-thin sheets made from these vegetables and thrown into the cement paste would interact with cement, looking at their effect on both the hydration of cement and its resulting mechanical properties. Then they conducted experiments in the lab to try and validate results from their simulations.
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