Graphene concrete could be revolutionary
We’ve all heard a lot about graphene, the 2D super-material isolated by a team at the University of Manchester in 2004 which has the potential to change the world. It is so thin, so strong, and so conductive that its applications are, to all intents and purposes, endless.
Patents have been taken out for revolutionary graphene-technologies in industries as diverse as electronics, optics, lighting, biosensors, thermal conductors, microscopics, and many others.
However, one area which has not so far been disrupted by graphene is technology – but that might be about to change with the arrival of graphene concrete.
Concrete is one of the oldest building materials on earth and has been in use since the Romans invented it approximately 2,000 years ago. Since then, it has become the most common building material on earth alongside steel. Concrete is strong, has excellent thermal properties, lasts for a long time, and can be made simply from commonly available materials.
One area where it falls down is its effect on the environment. Something like 6% of total global carbon emissions are a by-product of concrete production, from the energy used in both the mixing and the chemical processes used to break up the limestone which goes into it.
Significant reductions in emissions are required of the concrete industry on a relatively short timescale in order to meet the world carbon targets set in Paris in 2015. So far, this has proven problematic as the amount of concrete poured each year is increasing as cities continue to grow and proliferate. For example, it is well-known by now that China poured more concrete between 2011 and 2013 than the USA did during the entire 20th century.
Thankfully, scientists from the University of Exeter may have found a potential solution. As mentioned previously, graphene has begun to infiltrate countless industries, but until now the construction industry has remained largely un-disrupted by the nanomaterial.
That might be about to change. By incorporating graphene into traditional concrete, the Exeter team has succeeded in making a version of the material which is twice as strong and four times as water-resistant. Whereas previous attempts at using nanotechnology to improve concrete have largely centred on altering the material itself, the graphene concrete system works slightly differently by suspending a layer of graphene in water to produce a type of concrete without defects.
If you can produce a high-strength concrete with no defects then you will not have to make as much concrete. You can also build more securely in damper locations which would normally rot the concrete, thereby necessitating its earlier replacement and using even more concrete.
The researchers anticipate that this method will halve the materials used in the production of concrete. This is a big gain and, if it can be implemented fairly simply into current production methods, it could have an outsized impact.