It’s challenging to think of a material humbler than concrete. It has been around since the 1800s and has remained an ever-present staple of modern construction. From the sidewalks we ride our bikes on to the foundations of commercial buildings – concrete is everywhere.
Often when we think about concrete, we imagine the grey, Portland cement concrete that’s widely available. While that variation exists, there have been extensive advancements to concrete and concrete technology over the years.
From the concrete product to the process to the technology surrounding its use – we’re breaking down the latest advancements in concrete.
Concrete: The Product
Portland cement concrete is by and large still the most popular concrete on the market. It’s cheap to produce, durable, and reliable. However, it’s no longer the only option. Today, there are several new and exciting variations in concrete.
- Polymer Concrete – Concrete that’s reinforced with monomer filling to increase strength and elasticity.
- Fuel Ash Concrete – Concrete that’s made with coal byproduct to be more environmentally friendly and more structurally sound.
- Self-Curing Concrete – This concrete is still in development, but scientists are working to create concrete that doesn’t require the lengthy dry time of traditional concrete.
- Conductive Concrete – this concrete is also called “heated concrete,” and it’s currently in development. The benefit of this type of concrete is that it can be used in icy and cold weather on roads, airports, sidewalks, and bridges to enhance safety.
- High-Performance Concrete – there are several variations, but there’s an entire class of concrete that focuses on enhancing concrete’s inherent benefits by adding additives like steel to the mixture.
- Green Concrete – Fuel ash concrete is one example of this concrete type. However, there’s an entire line of concrete being developed to focus on lowering CO2 emissions.
The above examples only skim the surface of the many advancements happening in concrete products today. Because of its versatility and adaptability, there has been an insurgence in concrete block homes and other prefabricated concrete construction.
These advancements aren’t limited to the product alone. We’re also seeing the concrete process develop as well.
Concrete: The Process
Cement production has come a long way. Clearly, the above products wouldn’t be possible had our production not evolved. There have been fundamental equipment advancements, like more efficient mixing processes that have changed the face of the concrete industry.
In terms of products, the real remarkable advancements are in our ability to supplement materials entirely. Rather than doing a mixture of Portland cement and another substance, we now have alternative materials that are replacing cement as we know it.
Some examples include:
- Ground Granulated Blast-furnace Slag, a byproduct of iron
- Pulverized Fuel Ash, a byproduct of coal
- Metakaolin, a byproduct of kaolin
- Microsilica, a byproduct of silicon
Additionally, there has been an emphasis on the workforce and working on substituting labor. The concrete process, from fabrication to installation, is a difficult one. However, the pool of skilled laborers has diminished. The market has responded by creating more automation technologies and prefabricated elements.
What’s interesting is that as the concrete processes change, the processes for other things like installing a concrete driveway drain or laying down a home’s foundation will all have to change, too.
While it’s interesting to see the process changing, what’s more remarkable is some of the technology we’ve seen.
Concrete: The Technology
MIT and Apris Cor have introduced 3D printing technology capable of printing cement structures. They’re mobile and have the ability to build a small house in a single day. In 2017, Spain unveiled an entirely 3D-printed bridge. The project took around eighteen months to complete, but the technological potential of 3D printing cement is exciting.
The other significant advancements have to do more with cement equipment than they do with actual concrete. However, it’s worth noting that equipment is getting better at handling cement and concrete construction. There’s even equipment today that can notify you throughout the cement mixing process.
For example, it can tell you when the cement has reached a specific temperature or when it identifies an issue. Moreover, you can set mix rates and other settings.
Now, if you’re a concrete worker, you’re probably saying, “All of this is great, but surely, we’ve figured out how to remove concrete sealer more efficiently.”
Unfortunately, we’re still waiting on that one.
Concrete Continues to Advance
As you can see, there has been a slew of advancements in the concrete world. Next time you’re looking to purchase plain old Portland cement and mix it by hand, do a little digging first. You might find there’s a better and easier alternative out there already.
Brian Jeffries is the content director for the Innovative Building Materials blog and a content writer for the building materials industry. He is focused on helping fellow homeowners, contractors, and architects discover materials and methods of construction that save money, improve energy efficiency, and increase property value.