To improve today’s concrete, do as the Romans did
In a quest to make concrete more durable and sustainable, an international team of geologists and engineers has found inspiration in the ancient Romans, whose massive concrete structures have withstood the elements for more than 2,000 years.
Using the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), a research team from the University of California, Berkeley, examined the fine-scale structure of Roman concrete. It described for the first time how the extraordinarily stable compound – calcium-aluminum-silicate-hydrate (C-A-S-H) – binds the material used to build some of the most enduring structures in Western civilization.
The discovery could help improve the durability of modern concrete, which within 50 years often shows signs of degradation, particularly in ocean environments.
The manufacturing of Roman concrete also leaves a smaller carbon footprint than does its modern counterpart. The process for creating Portland cement, a key ingredient in modern concrete, requires fossil fuels to burn calcium carbonate (limestone) and clays at about 1,450 degrees Celsius (2,642 degrees Fahrenheit). Seven percent of global carbon dioxide emissions every year comes from this activity. The production of lime for Roman concrete, however, is much cleaner, requiring temperatures that are two-thirds of that required for making Portland cement.
The researchers’ findings are published in two papers, one that appears online now in the Journal of the American Ceramic Society, and the other scheduled to appear in the October issue of the journal American Mineralogist.