Novel experiments on cement yield concrete results

Apr 02, 2007

Using a brace of the most modern tools of materials research, a team from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Northwestern University has shed new light on one of mankind’s older construction materials—cement.

Their refinements to our understanding of how cement and concrete actually work, reported this week in Nature Materials, ultimately may make possible improvements in the formulation and use of cement that could save hundreds of millions of dollars in annual maintenance and repair costs for concrete structures and the country’s infrastructure.

Cement may be the world’s most widely used manufactured material—more than 11 billion metric tons are consumed each year—but it also is one of the more complex. And while it was known to the Romans, who used it to good effect in the Colosseum and Pantheon, questions still remain as to just how it works, in particular how it is structured at the nano- and microscale, and how this structure affects its performance.

Cement is something of a paradox. It requires just the right amount of water to form properly—technically it’s held together by a gel, a complex network of nanoparticles called calcium silicate hydrate (C-S-H) that binds a significant amount of water within its structure. But once the cement has set, the C-S-H structure retains a tough, unchanging integrity for centuries, even in contact with water. To date, attempts to pinpoint the amounts and different roles of water within the C-S-H in cement paste have required taking the water out, either by drying or chemical methods. The NIST/Northwestern researchers instead combined structural data from small-angle neutron scattering experiments at the NIST Center for Neutron Research and from an ultrasmall-angle X-ray scattering instrument built by NIST at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory. Their experiments are the first to classify water by its location in the cured cement.

As a result, the researchers were able to distinguish—and measure—the difference between water physically bound within the internal structure of the solid C-S-H nanoparticles and adsorbed or liquid water between the nanoparticles. They also measured a nanoscale calcium hydroxide structure that co-exists with the C-S-H gel.

The new data, which imply significantly different values for the formula and density of the C-S-H gel than previously supposed, have implications for defining the chemically active surface area within cement, and for predicting concrete properties. They also may lead to a better understanding of the contribution of the nanoscale structure of cement to its durability, and how to improve it.

Source: NIST

Explore further: Graphene and diamonds prove a slippery combination

Related Stories

Architects to hatch Ecocapsule as low-energy house

10 hours ago

Where people call home depends on varied factors, from poverty level to personal philosophy to vanity to community pressure. Ecocapsule appears to be the result of special factors, a team of architects applying ...

California farmers agree to drastically cut water use

13 hours ago

California farmers who hold some of the state's strongest water rights avoided the threat of deep mandatory cuts when the state accepted their proposal to voluntarily reduce consumption by 25 percent amid ...

Apple may deliver ways to rev up the iPad, report says

13 hours ago

MacRumors last month said that the latest numbers from market research firm IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker revealed Apple stayed on as the largest vendor in a declining tablet market. The iPad ...

Recommended for you

Graphene and diamonds prove a slippery combination

7 hours ago

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory have found a way to use tiny diamonds and graphene to give friction the slip, creating a new material combination that demonstrates ...

Artificial muscles get graphene boost

May 22, 2015

Researchers in South Korea have developed an electrode consisting of a single-atom-thick layer of carbon to help make more durable artificial muscles.

How to make continuous rolls of graphene

May 21, 2015

Graphene is a material with a host of potential applications, including in flexible light sources, solar panels that could be integrated into windows, and membranes to desalinate and purify water. But all ...

Carbon nanothreads from compressed benzene

May 20, 2015

A new carbon nanomaterial – the thinnest possible one-dimensional thread that still retains a diamond-like structure – was created by the controlled, slow compression and decompression of benzene. The ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.