GRAPHENE-ENHANCED CONCRETE: PIONEERING CHANGE IN CONSTRUCTION By Neill Ricketts Construction output is showing no signs of slowing down as Q1 showed the biggest increase since August last year. The industry has clearly shown it is recovering from the economic storms of the past two years, but what about the environmental implications?
Versarien Lunar 3D printed and made of CementeneTM
The construction industry currently accounts for 40% of the world’s greenhouse gases making it one of the biggest contributors to climate change. The effects on the environment are too large to ignore. As the industry grows, we must find ways to make building practices more sustainable. Decarbonising the construction industry The concrete market alone contributes to 1.5% of the UK’s carbon emissions. The need for eco-friendly building practices is becoming more urgent and has accelerated the pace of Research and Development (R&D) into how wonder materials such as graphene can make construction more sustainable. Materials like graphene can be added to building project plans due to the various benefits they provide. Despite being only one atom (~0.3 nanometres) thick, graphene is 200 times stronger than steel by weight. Once it is added to cement, it can increase the strength of the resulting cementitious composites by 30%.
A recent study conducted by Cambridge University indicated if the addition of graphene results in a 5% reduction of cement, the effect on global warming could be reduced by 21%. These results show a pathway for contractors to utilise advanced materials in building practices to lower the impact of construction on the environment that can be attributed to the introduction of raw materials.
Economic benefits and durability of graphene-enhanced concrete For the most part, construction output is dedicated to new builds- only 40% of it is used for refurbishment and maintenance. This further emphasises the need for durable buildings that do not require as much upkeep. Concrete is traditionally weak in tension. To remedy that weakness, steel is needed to reinforce concrete. Graphenebased admixes significantly increase the tensile strength of concrete, meaning the need for steel reinforcement can be reduced to achieve the same structural performance as normal concrete. A study conducted by the University of Exeter found that including graphene in concrete led to a 50% reduction of the required concrete material while still fulfilling the specifications for the loading of buildings. This added durability means that buildings are more resistant to adverse weather conditions and reduces the need for maintenance. Alongside this, decreasing the amount of construction material required will not only save organisations time on building sites but also save them money. There are estimates that using graphene-enhanced concrete can provide overall cost savings of 10-20% over standard concrete. Applications of electrically conductive concrete There are a variety of applications for a highly conductive material like graphene. The combination of the electric and thermal properties of graphene has recently opened up the possibility of potential applications in underfloor heating. By applying a thin layer of cementitious material containing graphene onto the flooring, the concrete itself can produce heat. While this can offer economic benefits, it can also conserve energy and reduces the impact on the environment.
The addition of graphene to cement means considerably fewer raw materials are needed to achieve the same structural performance. Versarien launches its Lunar lifestyle pods
The same strategy can allow for the emerging application of solid-state heated roads. This use of graphene in concrete for roads will make it easier to clear ice and snow from motorways. Additionally, it can provide safer roads to drive on and save money and time. The future of construction
Versarien demonstrating 3D printing capability of their product CementeneTM
16 Construction UK Magazine - June 2022
Looking to the future, as industries commit to reaching net-zero and becoming carbon neutral, the construction industry must play its part in lowering its carbon footprint. With construction output showing no signs of slowing down we must make building materials and practices more energy and cost efficient. Investing in and utilising technological innovations such as graphene will be the way forward if the construction industry is to reduce its carbon emissions.