The world population is estimated to reach 9 billion by 2050 with 70% of all people living in cities. As countries develop, there will be an ever increasing demand for building materials, especially concrete. Cement production is thus set to increase to 5 billion tonnes per year.
Concrete is the ideal material to meet many of the challenges the world will face in the coming decades: It is low-carbon made from abundant resources, capable of integrating large quantities of waste and by-products and is extremely durable.
Using alternative construction materials would, in many cases, not be a sustainable solution. Forest growth would not be able to compensate a dramatic increase in the use of wood and increasing steel production for construction would lead to higher emissions. Furthermore, concrete is the only viable material for many applications such as foundations, high rise structures, or dams.
Nevertheless we should explore all possible options to reduce the emissions linked to cement and concrete production and save resources.
Emissions in cement production are threefold:
Since process emissions, caused by the use of limestone, are responsible for most of the emissions, it would make sense to think that we simply have to use another raw material. However, there is a catch. Limestone is widely available close to almost all places where cement is used, and no viable substitute has yet been found despite many decades of intense research. It is possible to envisage niche products using alternative materials, but the bulk cement will still be Portland cement using limestone as a main raw material.
This is why our research does not focus on finding a revolutionary type of new cement, but rather on making concrete even better.
We study cement and concrete at a microscopic level to help understand the scope of physical and chemical reactions that occur when using different cement types or materials in the concrete mix. Furthermore, we look at how the concrete is likely to perform in the future.
Fundamental research is needed to study these complex materials and their interaction with the environment that surrounds them.
Using advanced techniques like atomic force microscopy, X-ray diffraction and transmission electron microscopy we get a better understanding on what goes on inside concrete. Gaining this knowledge will help develop solutions that will lower the carbon impact of concrete.
Our research supports several parallel pathways of reducing concrete's carbon impact:
Find out more on the European cement industry's (CEMBUREAU) Low Carbon Roadmap