Vegetables could help strengthen concrete

06 May 2019
Engineers at Lancaster University are working with Cellucomp in the UK to research how concrete can be strengthened and made more environmentally friendly by using root vegetables. Mohamed Saafi discusses the project

The idea

The idea is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from cement consumption in the construction industry by using a nanomaterial derived from carrots and sugar beetroot.

The construction sector is urgently seeking ways to curb its carbon emissions. The production of ordinary Portland cement, one of the main ingredients for concrete, accounts for 8 per cent of total global CO2 emissions. This is forecast to double in the next 30 years due to rising demand.

The nanomaterial is in the form of very thin sheets made from vegetable nanoplatelets. It is designed to strengthen the cement by amplifying its main hydration product, known as calcium silicate hydrate and which is the main glue that holds the concrete components together. This yields a super-strong concrete with low cement content.

The research project is looking at adding the nanosheets to existing concrete structures to reinforce their strength. The researchers believe the nanosheets will outperform existing alternatives such as carbon fibre. This is partly because concrete beams reinforced with the sheets will be able to bend more, which would help deflect potentially damaging forces.

The research

The researchers successfully produced concrete products using carrot/sugar beetroot with superior mechanical properties and higher crack resistance. The products also use less cement by about 10 per cent and reduce CO2 emissions by 40 kilograms per cubic meter of concrete.

Possible applications

The results of the research can be applied to precast concrete, buildings, bridges, pavements, oil and gas, and concrete pipes. 

About the author

Mohamed Saafi is lead researcher, and professor and chair in structural integrity and materials at Lancaster University

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