pouring concrete
Image: Igor ovsyannykov

University of Exeter researchers have found a way to incorporate wonder material graphene into the traditional concrete production process, a move they say could revolutionise the construction industry and lead to a much greener, stronger and durable product.

Using nano-engineering technology the researchers were able to create a composite material that showed an “unprecedented gamut of functionalities”, including a 146 per cent increase in compressive strength, a 79 per cent increase in flexural strength, a 400 per cent decrease in water permeability, and improved electrical and thermal performance.

Co-author Professor Monica Craciun said by using graphene the amount of materials used to make concrete could be reduced by 50 per cent, leading to a drastic reduction in its carbon profile.

“Our cities face a growing pressure from global challenges on pollution, sustainable urbanisation and resilience to catastrophic natural events, amongst others,” she said.

“This new composite material is an absolute game-changer in terms of reinforcing traditional concrete to meets these needs.

“Not only is it stronger and more durable, but it is also more resistant to water, making it uniquely suitable for construction in areas which require maintenance work and are difficult to be accessed.”

The material would be particularly suited too areas subject to flooding, the paper found.

“This unprecedented range of functionalities and properties uncovered are an important step in encouraging a more sustainable, environmentally friendly construction industry worldwide,” Professor Craciun said.

All of the concrete samples produced and tested met all the British and European standards for construction. Rather than attempting to modifying existing components of cement, the researchers said the improved material was due to the addition of water-stabilised graphene dispersions, a low-cost process they said was compatible with modern, large-scale manufacturing requirements.

“This ground-breaking research is important as it can be applied to large-scale manufacturing and construction,” lead author and nanoscience/civil engineering PhD researcher Dimitar Dimov said.

“The industry has to be modernised by incorporating not only off-site manufacturing, but innovative new materials as well. Finding greener ways to build is a crucial step forward in reducing carbon emissions around the world and so help protect our environment as much as possible. It is the first step, but a crucial step in the right direction to make a more sustainable construction industry for the future.”

The research team said the new technique could also pave the way for other nanomaterials to be incorporated into concrete, leading to further modernisation of the global construction industry.

The research is published in Advanced Functional Materials.

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