Sustainable graphene-laced concrete

Graphene used to create stronger, greener concrete

Image credit: Dimitar Dimov / University of Exeter

Engineers based at the University of Exeter have used graphene to develop a new type of concrete that is stronger, more water resistant and more environmentally friendly than before.

The team developed this new material by incorporating graphene into the conventional concrete production process, suspending it in water.

Graphene - an one atom-thick layer of carbon atoms - attracts considerable interest due to its extraordinary electrical, thermal and mechanical properties, which has led to innovations including non-damaging hair dye and a seawater sieve to produce drinkable water.

Lacing graphene into the concrete allowed for the production of a new type of graphene-reinforced concrete that is twice as strong (graphene is the strongest material ever measured) and four times as water resistant as existing concretes. It can be directly used on building sites in accordance with British and European standards. Perhaps most significantly, this concrete hugely reduces the carbon footprint of current concrete production methods.

“Our cities face a growing pressure from global challenges on pollution, sustainable urbanisation and resilience to catastrophic natural events, amongst others,” said Professor Monica Cracium, University of Exeter engineer and co-author of the paper describing the new material.

“This new composite material is an absolute game-changer in terms of reinforcing traditional concrete to meet 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.”

“Yet perhaps more importantly, by including graphene we can reduce the amount of materials required to make concrete by around 50 per cent, leading to a significant reduction of 446kg/tonne of the carbon emissions.”

The engineers behind the study hope that this research can be applied to industrial-scale manufacturing and construction, allowing for these projects to be carried out with far lower carbon emissions than before.

“Finding greener ways to build is a crucial step forward in reducing carbon emissions around the world and so [helping] protect our environment as much as possible,” said Dimitar Dimov, a PhD student at Exeter and lead author of the study. “It is the first step, but a crucial step in the right direction to make a more sustainable construction industry for the future.”

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