In previous blogs, I’ve alluded to some of the challenges faced with cement use in buildings – expense, lack of aesthetic appeal, and environmental disadvantages (to name a few). What if there was a viable replacement? The thought interested me to do some digging.
What’s so wrong with cement use in construction in the first place?
Cement can be subject to quite a bit of cracking. Because of this, when settlement is expected, cement is not ideal. Also, cement usage is one of the primary producers of an extremely harmful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, carbon dioxide.
Research has found there are several industrial by-products available to use as a substitute. For one, iron carbonate is a very valid (and very green) stand-in. The main proponent of the technology’s advancement, David Stone, came up with the idea while studying in pursuit of a PhD at the University of Arizona. In an interview, he explained, “This is a carbon-negative process that helps to trap the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. I discovered that there was this material called steel dust [from steel mills] that is not recycled, so it typically goes straight to the landfill.”
After the steel dust is extracted, silica is added in, derived from ground-up glass. The concept is now patented as IronKast Ferrocrete and boasts not only absorption of harmful Co2, but also a strength that puts other cement systems to shame.
Other researchers have been putting time into establishing new types of concrete as well. Technology-centered schools in Finland are focusing on sustainability through developing a new composite material that relies on 3D printing production. This way, there isn’t a whole lot of limitation with design – and design firms are looking towards the development with wide eyes.
Two Finnish research partners have picked up on the potential for the 3D printing of the new material to create uniquely shaped noise barriers, public seating, and various types of curved ramp structures. Integrations like robotic printers have even become a part of the push.
Although it’s apparent there won’t be one replacement solution to cement, a variety of substitution options will soon become the norm. Different factors like cost, location, and availability of materials will set the ease of adoption for mass use in the future. Wherever we end up, the implications are pretty positive for the environment and project owners’ construction outcomes.