Engineered Calcium-Silicate-Hydrates for Applications

A project funded by the European Union under the

Horizon 2020 – Marie Sklodowska-Curie - Innovative Training Network (ITN) programme

After two highly-successful ITN projects, we are delighted to have been made a third award – ERICA. ERICA is an innovative, five-nation project straddling materials science and engineering, physics and chemistry in diverse areas of experimentation and computational modelling. We are seeking to appoint 13 PhD students to this project based in the UK, Switzerland, Italy, Austria and Germany.

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ERICA - aims and objectives

Inorganic hydrates such as calcium-silicate-hydrate, (CaO)x(SiO2)(H2O)y, abbreviated C-S-H, are “wonder” materials exceedingly rich in terms of potential applications that can be produced in almost any shape or form, cheaply and in large quantities right across the world from local and sustainable resources. C-S-H is the “glue” of cement, itself the glue of concrete, material with enormous economic impact. But C-S-H and other hydrates are also used as a filler in paper and in polymer composites, as dental filling materials, for waste water treatment in fertilizers and as insulation and encasement materials including for nuclear waste.

The overarching aim of the ERICA project is to understand how to engineer hydrates at the nanoscale, to enable improved engineering applications, and to train a cohort of materials scientists who will be able to carry these research advances forward in future employment.

This aim will be reached by achieving specific objectives as follows:

  • To discover how C‑S‑H nucleates and grows;
  • To show that C‑S‑H can be engineered at the nano-scale;
  • To evidence what happens at the nanoscale during the first and subsequent sorption cycles;
  • To elucidate how this impacts water and small ion transport in agglomerates of hydrates;
  • To validate improved materials and production methods for real-world applications;
  • To deliver world-class training in hydrate materials science, opportunities and transferable skills.

In order to achieve the foregoing objectives, ERICA exploits recent advances in:

  • Methods for controlled synthesis of calcium-silicate-hydrate as a function of CaO to SiO2 ratio;
  • Understanding of hydrate chemistry during early stages of growth;
  • Numerical modelling (especially molecular dynamics) of hydrates;
  • Recognition of the importance of the first sorption cycle in modifying structure and
  • Experimental techniques, especially ‘H Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) relaxometry, that have allowed non-invasive and non-destructive measurement of micro-structural evolution during growth and water sorption.

Why is ERICA important? There are many reasons, but if we pick one, it is surely that C-S-H is the main phase controlling the performance of cement-based materials. These materials are so widely used that their production is the leading industrial source of greenhouse gases, contributing about 8% of global CO2 emissions despite very low emissions per kg. Engineering C-S-H growth for faster strength development and for improved performance, such as water transport that affects C-S-H durability, is key to further lowering the CO2 impact of construction.

ERICA - Partners

The ERICA project has 5 beneficiaries and 5 partner organisations:

1 University of Surrey
Department of Physics
USurrey UK
2 Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Laboratory of Construction Materials, Insitute of Materials
3 Alma Mater Studiorum-Università di Bologna
Department of Civil, Chemical,Environmental & Materials Engineering
4 Technische Universität Wien
Institute for Mechanics of Materials and Structures
TU Wien AT
5 HeidelbergCement
Department of Global Research and Development
1 FEI Trondheim AS FEI NO
2 MR Solutions Ltd MRSolutions UK
3 Saint Gobain Recherche S.A. SGR FR