“The conditions of the world are changing,” says Oral Buyukozturk, MIT civil and environmental engineering professor. Increasing environmental demands on existing infrastructure and stronger regulations insist innovation must occur within the concrete batching and construction industries.
In an effort inspired by the success of Roman concrete systems, Buyukozturk is trying to find a way to locally source concrete ingredients. This would help both environmentally and structurally by reducing CO2 emissions and increasing overall concrete strength.
It’s all a simulation.
Using an in-house-crafted computer model, Buyukozturk’s team replicated concrete behavior down to singular atoms. At the molecular level, there are atom-to-atom interactions that create frictional resistance. This is the heart of concrete’s strength.
The computer’s job is to assess how atomic makeup impacts engineering properties. For example, how does volcanic ash from Saudi Arabia affect concrete strength compared to Hawaiian volcanic ash? Once mature, the computer model will provide more insight into product creation and concrete mix designs before batches are officially mixed and tested in the field.
Initial tests show the model could be a disrupter within the concrete industry: The computer’s predictions were authenticated by real-world measurements.
What computer simulations mean for the concrete industry
It’s not hard to see the money-saving potential.
Now the team can make imperceptible changes on a microscopic level within molded concrete designs and predict how strong the concrete will be if the design is used for a physical structure.
If you’ve been following the news concerning geopolymer cements, then you know the ability to predict a structure’s strength without damaging the concrete is sought after. Researchers continue searching for Portland cement alternatives, since making the cement produces substantial CO2 emissions.
However, concrete professionals cannot invest in alternative materials without absolute assurance they will produce concrete that is just as strong or stronger than current mix designs using Portland cement.
As the simulation technology improves, the concrete batching industry will gain the ability to shake up mix designs and move on from Portland cement-based blends. This will ultimately lead to stronger concrete with a decreased carbon footprint.
Ideally, any new materials will be locally sourced, cutting down on cost since the materials won’t need to be shipped as far.
This is still years away, but change is coming.
You can read the MIT announcement here.