New research suggests that adding graphene – the ‘supermaterial’ form of carbon – could double the strength of concrete and quadruple its water-resistance
The University of Exeter has incorporated graphene into traditional concrete production to create a composite material, which the research team believes could easily be scaled up for use with modern manufacturing techniques.
In contrast to earlier experiments using nanotechnology, which focused on modifying the constituent elements of concrete such as cement, the new technique uses suspensions of graphene in water. This method produced a high yield of defect-free ‘nanoengineered’ concrete which has proved to be more than twice as strong and four times more water-resistant than existing concretes.
Its increased strength meant the researchers were also able to reduce by roughly half the volume of materials used to make concrete.
Since cement-making accounts for 6 per cent of global carbon emissions, any reduction in the volumes being used could have a significant positive environmental impact.
In addition, the increase in water resistance could aid construction at sites and in conditions which are hard to reach for maintenance.
The University of Exeter research was funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and is published in the journal Advanced Functional Material in a paper entitled Ultrahigh Performance Nanoengineered Graphene-Concrete Composites for Multifunctional Applications.
Commenting on the innovation’s potential impact, Monica Craciun, professor of nanoscience at the University of Exeter’s engineering department, told the Guardian: ’Our cities face a growing pressure from global challenges on pollution, sustainable urbanisation and resilience to catastrophic natural events. This new composite material is an absolute game-changer in terms of reinforcing traditional concrete to meet these needs.’
Graphene is a form of carbon made up of a single layer of carbon atoms in a hexagonal lattice. Its properties include efficient conductance of heat and electricity and unusual strength. It was first reliably produced at the University of Manchester by researchers in 2004; work that led to two Nobel prizes.