Monday, August 17, 2009

5 High Tech and Eco-Friendly Concrete Alternatives

By Mary Smith

Now more than ever, people are requesting products, homes and buildings that are friendly to the environment. It seems "green" is the hot buzz word. Green buildings are in demand and governments are providing incentives. As a result more green buildings are being designed and more green products are being specified and used.

Concrete is an amazing material. It's long lasting, high strength and easily produced. It's one of the most common building materials used around the world. Cement, a major component of concrete however, is environmentally "dirty." One ton of carbon dioxide is produced for every ton of cement created. There has been a lot of work done recently to improve concrete by developing high-tech and green alternatives.

One of the innovations made to cement production is by Calera, a California based company. They've developed a process to produce cement that does not release any additional CO2 into the atmosphere. In fact, their techniques actually remove a half ton of CO2 from the atmosphere for ever ton of cement produced.

Not to be outdone, another California company, iCrete, has been working on mix design technology and has been able to reduce the carbon footprint of a typical construction project by 40 percent. In addition, the concrete produced is superior to standard concrete and also less expensive.

A New Jersey company, Hycrete, has developed a method to permanently waterproof concrete. This method eliminates the need and expense of using petroleum based membranes to protect underground concrete from moisture in the soil. The process also speeds up construction, helps building last longer and reduces use of petroleum-based products.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been studying the microstructure of concrete. Their goal was to determine how and why deterioration occurs in concrete. The results of their research show they will be able to increase the life of concrete from around one hundred years to nearly one thousand years.

Another problem with traditional concrete is the formation of very minute cracks which eventually impacts the strength of the concrete structure eventually requiring replacement of the building. University of Michigan labs have developed a concrete able to self-heal these cracks. When concrete cracks, it exposes the cement to air which usually begins the deterioration process. But with their mix, calcium carbonate in the concrete combines with carbon dioxide in the air and heals the cracks. This reduces the need to replace or repair the concrete.

Over hundreds of years, concrete has become one of the most useful building products on the planet. It's strong, durable and easily formed. Scientists, engineers and innovative companies will continue to improve concrete to reduce its environmental impact, make it even more useful, and even more economical.

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