Environmentally friendly bendable concrete doesn’t shatter under pressure

Of all the words that describe concrete, “bendy” probably isn’t one that immediately springs to mind. But that could very well change in the near future, thanks to the work of researchers at Swinburne University’s Center for Smart Infrastructure and Digital Construction in Australia.

Investigators there have developed a new type of concrete, created using waste materials such as a type of ash produced by coal-fired power stations, which can bend under high pressure. While that might not sound desirable, it’s far more preferable than traditional concrete which shatters under the same circumstances.

“Concrete is the most widely used construction material in the world,” Behzad Nematollahi, one of the lead researchers on the project, said in a statement. “In fact, it is the second-most consumed material by human beings after water. Its quality has a massive effect on the resilience of our infrastructure, such as buildings, bridges, and tunnels.”

The Swinburne University researchers are not the first group to investigate bendable concrete. However, their contribution to the development of this material is a method of producing it that requires 36% less energy and emits up to 76% less carbon dioxide compared to less environmentally friendly “conventional bendable concrete” made of cement.

In an abstract describing their work, the researchers note that “Geopolymer composite research is aimed to make sustainable alternatives to Portland cement-based composites. However, the two main obstacles for commercialization are the use of large quantities of user-hostile liquid activators and heat curing. This study is aimed to overcome these obstacles by developing an ambient temperature cured ‘one-part’ strain hardening geopolymer composite (SHGC). The developed composite as a ‘dry mix’ uses a small amount of solid activator and eliminates the necessity for heat curing.”

Testing the new concrete under lab conditions showed that it is about 400 times more bendable than regular concrete, but has comparable strength. The inclusion of short polymeric fibers as part of the mix allows it to sustain multiple hair-sized cracks when put under tension or bending without breaking into pieces.

A paper describing the work, titled “Micromechanics-based investigation of a sustainable ambient temperature cured one part strain hardening geopolymer composite,” was recently published in the journal Construction and Building Materials.

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