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MIT receives funding for concrete research

Published by , Editor - Hydrocarbon Engineering
World Cement,

The MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub (CSHub), which conducts research into concrete, infrastructure science, engineering and economics, has received US$10 million in funding to support research by interdisciplinary investigators from several MIT departments. The new funding has resulted in a total investment of US$20 million by its industry partners, the Portland Cement Association (PCA) and the Ready Mixed Concrete (RMC) Research & Education Foundation.

“As the call for an increased emphasis on environmental issues in the building industry grows louder, concrete manufacturers are making a long-term investment in research that can move us toward greater sustainability,” said Julia Garbini, Executive Director of the RMC Research & Education Foundation.

The CSHub addresses the sustainability and environmental implications of the production and use of concrete. Concrete is the most produced material in the world and demand for it will only increase due to factors such as the urbanisation of developing nations and the rising price of other infrastructure materials. The centre’s research aims to fine-tune the composition of concrete, reduce the greenhouse gas emissions released during its production and quantify its environmental impact and cost during the entire lifespan of an infrastructure or building project.

During its second five-year research phase, the CSHub will build on initial advances and translate results into engineering practice. “Working with PCA and the RMC Research & Education Foundation allows us to find ways to bridge the valley between our lab-scale inventions and full-scale innovation in engineering practice,” said Franz-Josef Ulm, Faculty Director of the CSHub and the George Macomber Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT. “We must fully communicate the potential for quantitative sustainable engineering to transform current engineering practice.”

PCA President and CEO Gregory Scott commented on the research: “Breakthroughs in concrete science and engineering hold the promise that concrete can be part of the solution of contributing to sustainable development and reducing the carbon footprint of our built environment.”

CSHub research results so far

  • Further understanding regarding the basic structure of concrete: CSHub researchers created an atomic-scale model of the DNA of concrete, calcium-silica-hydrate (the paste that forms and hardens when cement powder mixes with water). Due to this research scientists have been led to important findings, such as determining the optimal composition of calcium-silica-hydrate that would enable concrete structures to resist cracks and other deformations.
  • Research into better pavements: scientists found that using stiffer pavements (concrete, asphalt, or a combination of both) could reduce vehicle fuel consumption by as much as 3% nationwide, potentially reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 46.5 million tpa.
  • Assessing the life cycle and long-term costs of concrete: the CSHub are developing new life-cycle assessment (LCA) tools to give those in the building trades better ways to estimate the mileage of a structure, which will provide a more accurate picture of a building’s environmental impact over time. The centre is also developing better life-cycle cost analysis (LCCA) tools, enabling planners to more accurately estimate the financial outlay needed for long-term projects.
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in cement production: CSHub engineers have experimented with adding a small amount of aluminium to cement in order to decrease the processing temperature and reduce emissions. The centre is also exploring ways to cut down the use of cement powder by substituting waste materials (e.g. flyash from electric coal power plants), while still maintaining concrete’s high performance.

Future research

The aim of the centre is to implement its findings into the engineering of infrastructure. During its next five-year phase, the CSHub plans to undertake additional experiments on the composition of concrete to optimise its durability while minimising its carbon footprint and integrate aspects of LCA/LCCA into building design.

Find more information on the research conducted by CSHub here and the original MIT news release here.

Adapted from news release by Rosalie Starling

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