MagMats: Magnesia-bearing construction materials for future energy infrastructure

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Engineering

Abstract

Material innovations focussing on delivery and sustainability are key as our global efforts intensify in the development of a secure and sustainable future energy landscape. Many infrastructure-related material challenges have emerged as a result of the need (i) to explore offshore marine environments for wind power generation, (ii) for deeper and more complex underground wellbore systems for new oil & gas explorations, (iii) for robust containment and shielding structures for new nuclear power plants and (iv) for larger dam structures for future hydropower generation. Our vision for this proposal is to build a world leading and long lasting partnership between academics in the UK and China, integrated with industrial partners and other world leading academic groups around the world, to collectively address some of those construction material challenges with a focus on sustainability. The commonality in the assembled group is our interest and expertise in exploring potentials for magnesia-bearing construction materials in solving some of those new challenges, by either providing completely new solutions or enhanced solutions to existing material systems. This is a unique area to China and the UK where there is significant complementary expertise in the different grades of and applications for magnesia. The project consortium from the University of Cambridge, University College London, Chongqing University and Nanjing Tech University has the required interdisciplinary mix of materials, structural and geotechnical engineers, with world leading unique expertise in magnesia-based construction materials. The intention is to share and advance our global understanding of the performance of those proposed materials, road map future research and commercial needs and identify the ideal applications in our future energy infrastructures where most performance impact and sustainability benefits can be achieved.

The proposed focusses two main areas of research. The first is the technical advantages and benefits that magnesia can provide to existing cement systems. This includes (i) its use as an expansive additive for large mass concrete constructions e.g. dams and nuclear installations, (ii) its role in magnesium phosphate cements for the developing of low pH cements suitable for nuclear waste applications and (iii) its role in advancing the development of alkali activated cements by providing low shrinkage and corrosion resistance. The second is the delivery of sustainable MgO production processes that focus on the use of both mineral and reject brine resources. An integral part of this project will be the knowledge transfer activities and collaboration with industry and other relevant research centres around the world. An overarching aspect of the proposed research is the mapping out of the team's capabilities and the integration of expertise and personnel exchange to ensure maximum impact. This will ensure that the research is at the forefront of the global pursuit for a sustainable future energy infrastructure and will ensure that maximum impact is achieved. The consortium plans to act as a global hub to provide a national and international platform for facilitating dialogue and collaboration to enhance the global knowledge economy.

Planned Impact

The advancement of existing systems and development of a new suit of sustainable and futuristic magnesia-bearing construction materials through the proposed high level academic research collaboration between the academic team from the UK and China, as well as addressing global perspectives through wider academic and industrial collaborators, through potential for scale-up and commercial applications, is expected to have direct and significant economic and social impacts on the wide range of stakeholders involved in the development of sustainable construction materials and our global future energy infrastructure and much wider associated built environment. The proposed cementitious materials developments are expected to achieve significant technical enhancements to the performance of cementitious systems in the anticipated challenging environments associated with future energy infrastructures enabling much larger dam structures to be built, much deeper oil & gas wells to be installed and safer nuclear waste containment systems to be designed providing significant contributions to the increased energy production. It will also enable this to construction to take place with the use of sustainable materials by replacing Portland cement by magnesia bearing alkali activated cements, where appropriate, and the sustainable production of future MgO globally. The beneficiaries include:
(i) all those involved with construction materials, products and systems: material suppliers, consultants, contractors, clients, architects, planners, local authorities;
(ii) civil engineering consultants and contractors who: (a) are involved in energy infrastructure asset management and support for a wide range of infrastructure projects; (b) are involved in the design, construction, management and maintenance of different types of relevant future energy infrastructure structures; (c) put sustainability at the heart of their projects and see sustainable and resilient materials as a key component of sustainable development, and those who have to meet sustainability targets. Such innovations will also provide them with a leading edge over competitors and there is a clear potential for joint patents and inventions;
(iii) Waste organisations: Waste producers, through the reuse of global quantities of mineral wastes and wastewaters and conserving land and coastal resources, and Waste management companies, who will benefit from the development of the wast reuse technologies and applications that can be exported around the world;
(iv) government and policy makers who have the mission to deliver the next generation of energy systems (infrastructure and structures) and who will need to do that with sustainability and cost at the forefront of their thinking;
(v) UK and Chinese companies working abroad and in other BRIC countries as well as in parts of the world where particularly aggressive construction conditions exist e.g. construction in highly saline soils in the Middle East;
(vi) research and development organisations who will be able to work closely with the consortium and to take forward innovations to commercial scale applications;
(vii) those groups involved in design codes and standards by the provision of sufficient data and field evidence of performance to enable a move towards incorporation;
(viii) Professional engineering institutions by raising the profile of UK and China construction materials research with allied research fields and industrial sectors;
(ix) the wider public through the delivery of a reliable and safe energy systems with significantly reduced disruptions and costs to them through the provision of continuous supply or green energy through a green infrastructure with much reduced environmental impacts as well as school pupils will would benefit from public outreach activities through the project.
 
Description Publications, field demonstrations, identified commonalities in research expertise between the UK and China, roadmapping of future activities, engagement in UK/China joint activities. Project still half-way through so more outcome to follow.
Exploitation Route Forms the basis of new research and applications in this area.
Sectors Construction

 
Description We have carried out field trials and dissemination of activities as well as integrated of knowledge and expertise between the UK and China partners.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Construction
Impact Types Economic

 
Description 14 ICCC conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Attended 14th International Congress on the Chemistry of Cement in Beijing in October 2015.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Field Demonstration 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Patients, carers and/or patient groups
Results and Impact Over 100 MgO-bearing concrete blocks (440x220x100) were manufactured in-house and installed in the Dyson Building plantroom walls replacing commercial blocks and have been monitored since
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Microdurability 2016 Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Attended microdurability conference in Nanjing and spent time at NTU.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2016
 
Description Poster presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Poster presented at Workshop on Energy, Transport and Urban Infrastructure. Poster title: Magnesia-bearing Materials for Future Infrastructure and Environment
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Project Launch Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Project Launch event in Cambridge, attended by both UK and China project investigators and a number of the industry partners as well as the 3 other projects funded from the same EPSRC/NSFC call on Sustainable Materials for Infrastructure. The event was followed by a project team meeting.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Project meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Project meeting
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Project meeting Cambridge September 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Project meeting between UK and China partners, in Cambridge in September 2016.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Project meeting in Chongqing 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Project meeting between UK and China partners in Chongqing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Project meeting in Nanging 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Meeting between the UK and China partners, and included presentations to academic and professional visitors engaged in this area of research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Team meeting between UK and China 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Team meeting between the UK and China
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Workshop at UCL 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Attended Researcher Links Workshop: Innovation in Low-carbon Cement and Concrete Technology. Oral presentation and poster on: Magnesia-bearing Construction Materials for Future Energy Infrastructure.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016