Rational design of low-CO2 alkali-activated concretes for eco-efficiency and durability

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Materials Science and Engineering

Abstract

This project will develop new methodologies for designing and optimising environmentally friendly concretes derived from industrial by-product materials. As a collaborative project involving leading institutions in the UK and China, we will work together to design these concretes, which are based on low-CO2 alkali-activated cements instead of traditional Portland cement, in a way which optimises the properties of the concrete by making use of the unique interfacial binding properties of the alkali-activated cement material. We will achieve this through a combined programme of experimental and mathematical modelling work, and will validate the performance of the concretes through accelerated durability testing. This project also links to the work of the international RILEM technical committee which is working towards the standardisation of testing methods for these materials on an international level, enhancing the leadership of UK and Chinese researchers in this field.

Planned Impact

The construction sector accounts for a significant fraction of both the economies and environmental footprints of China and the UK. China uses more than 50% of global cement production, and continues to show an increasing demand for construction materials, but also has a strong national focus on achieving environmental gains while meeting this demand. The UK construction materials sector is also operating under increasingly strict environmental regulations while providing the materials needed to fuel the infrastructure construction which is a key component of the nation's economic recovery. The availability of materials, such as alkali-activated binder systems, which can offer enhanced economic performance and reduced environmental footprint when compared with traditional Portland cement-based concretes, will have a major impact in the economy and industry in each nation. The work funded through this project will ensure that the UK and China remain at the forefront of the global move towards sustainable construction materials by providing the technology to produce geopolymer concrete with very low environmental footprint. As a part of this process, the training of young researchers at doctoral and postdoctoral level, including exchange programmes between UK and Chinese institutions, will be a key component of the project plan.
The transfer of information from the project team to key industry and asset-owner stakeholders will provide key pathways to direct impact for the technical outcomes of this project. We will also connect with leading international researchers through participation in the RILEM Technical Committee 247-DTA, chaired by the UK PI of the project (Prof. J. Provis), and will feed key results from this work into the international round robin testing programme being organised and conducted by that technical committee. This two-way flow of information involving leading academic, government laboratory and industry participants in the technical committee (more than 50 partners in 17 countries) will place the project at the forefront of international developments in sustainable construction materials technology, providing high impact and direct utilisation of project outcomes in application worldwide.
 
Description Our project EP/M003272/1 was jointly funded by EPSRC (lead U. Sheffield, partners Queen's U. Belfast and U. Leeds) and NSFC (lead Southeast U., partners Hohai U and Hunan U. Tech.), and produced some very interesting collaborative outcomes and connections.

The project team met in person in Beijing in October 2015 at the 15th International Congress on the Chemistry of Cement, which provided us with an opportunity to more deeply connect our research activities across all partner sites. Dr Zhujin Tan (PDRA, Sheffield) made an extended visit to the Chinese partners in June-July 2016. We have continued to interact through collaborative preparation of publications, both between the UK and China (including one published in the leading journal Powder Technology in 2018), and between the three UK sites (several conference publications to date; journal papers published in Construction & Building Materials and in Journal of Cleaner Production, between multiple UK sites, as well as individual papers published by Sheffield and by QUB).

The project sponsored a total of two PDRAs and 15 research students (PhD and MEng), working together to develop a holistic approach to the design of sustainable concretes. We are linking observations and mathematical models of cement and concrete behaviour from the nanoscale up to the macroscale, focusing on new 'geopolymer' type cements which offer greatly reduced CO2 emissions compared to standard Portland cement. The key findings include:
* new, highly reproducible and reliable methodologies for characterising the flow and setting behaviour of these cements (which was not previously possible using established techniques) - published
* new physically-based explanations for previously unexplored apparent shear-thickening behaviour of cementitious pastes during rheological testing - in preparation for publication
* improved models for packing of cement and aggregate particles within concretes, making use of knowledge of the non-spherical shape of these particles in innovative ways - published
* the use and coupling of these various aspects to provide deeper insight into the parameters which control the resistance of geopolymer concretes to aggressive conditions, particularly freeze-thaw and chloride-induced corrosion - work ongoing, plus journal and and conference publications.
Exploitation Route We are taking forward the findings ourselves to lead to both academic and societal impact. The new modelling and experimental tools that we are developing will be deployed first by the partner organisations, but also through open-access publication these tools will become available to other research and industrial organisations. The outcomes will also continue to be promoted at conferences and through participation of project team members in national and international technical committees. We are also engaging beyond the original target audience of the construction sector, to further explore the use of geopolymer cements in the nuclear and transport industries, through projects submitted to other funding agencies (EU H2020, NDA, EPSRC GCRF)
Sectors Construction,Energy,Environment,Transport

 
Description Preliminary findings and methodological aspects under development in this project are being fed into the continuing development and revision of Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 8820:2016, which was published in March 2016 by the British Standards Institute. This PAS is to be reviewed after 24 months of operation and use in practice, for consideration for conversion or extension into a British Standard.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Construction,Transport
Impact Types Societal

 
Description BSI Publicly Available Specification
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Impact Performance-based specification for alkali-activated cementitious materials (world-first) released in 2016, to enable the use of these materials in a regulated way in the UK. Sponsored by HS2 and David Ball Group. J Provis technical author.
URL http://shop.bsigroup.com/ProductDetail?pid=000000000030318035
 
Description PAS utilisation
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
Impact Project results have directly influenced the development of BSI PAS 8820:2016 (J Provis technical author), the first performance-based specification for alkali-activated cementitious materials and concretes involving these cements, which are the subject of this project.
 
Description Standard development ASTM C01.14
Geographic Reach North America 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact Development of a new ASTM standard for alkali-activated concretes, for durable adn sustainable construction. Main geographic focus is North America, but ASTM standards are applied worldwide. Standard to be balloted mid-late 2019 for formal approval.
 
Description Collaborative Research and Development
Amount £910,348 (GBP)
Funding ID 102721 
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2016 
End 04/2019
 
Description Development of low-cement concretes
Amount £200,000 (GBP)
Organisation Sumitomo Corporation 
Start 12/2018 
End 12/2020
 
Description DuRSAAM
Amount € 3,397,847 (EUR)
Funding ID 813596 
Organisation European Commission H2020 
Sector Public
Country Belgium
Start 11/2018 
End 10/2022
 
Description EPSRC GCRF Institutional quick-spend allocation
Amount £20,000 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2016 
End 03/2017
 
Description EPSRC IAA (partnership with Sumicol S.A.) Innovation and Knowledge Exchange Grant
Amount £49,934 (GBP)
Funding ID 146141 
Organisation University of Sheffield 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2016 
End 09/2016
 
Description EPSRC UK-Japan Civil Nuclear Phase 3
Amount £600,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P013171/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2016 
End 03/2019
 
Description Manufacturing integrated building components using digital hybrid Concrete Printing (HCP) technology
Amount £1,222,952 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/S031405/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 12/2021
 
Description URBCON - By-products for sustainable concrete in the urban environment
Amount € 5,150,000 (EUR)
Organisation INTERREG IIIC North 
Sector Public
Country France
Start 10/2018 
End 10/2022
 
Description Project team 
Organisation Hohai University
Department College of Mechanics and Materials
Country China 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Project lead; providing thermochemical and rheological data, and particle characterisation
Collaborator Contribution Modelling of microscale and mesoscale properties of materials; characterisation of concrete mixtures and durability performance; development of advanced admixtures for performance control. Collaborative discussion, drafting and submission of research outcomes.
Impact All project outcomes relate to this collaboration
Start Year 2014
 
Description Project team 
Organisation Queen's University Belfast
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Project lead; providing thermochemical and rheological data, and particle characterisation
Collaborator Contribution Modelling of microscale and mesoscale properties of materials; characterisation of concrete mixtures and durability performance; development of advanced admixtures for performance control. Collaborative discussion, drafting and submission of research outcomes.
Impact All project outcomes relate to this collaboration
Start Year 2014
 
Description Project team 
Organisation Southeast University China
Country China 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Project lead; providing thermochemical and rheological data, and particle characterisation
Collaborator Contribution Modelling of microscale and mesoscale properties of materials; characterisation of concrete mixtures and durability performance; development of advanced admixtures for performance control. Collaborative discussion, drafting and submission of research outcomes.
Impact All project outcomes relate to this collaboration
Start Year 2014
 
Description Project team 
Organisation University of Leeds
Department School of Civil Engineering
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Project lead; providing thermochemical and rheological data, and particle characterisation
Collaborator Contribution Modelling of microscale and mesoscale properties of materials; characterisation of concrete mixtures and durability performance; development of advanced admixtures for performance control. Collaborative discussion, drafting and submission of research outcomes.
Impact All project outcomes relate to this collaboration
Start Year 2014
 
Description Project team 
Organisation University of Leeds
Department School of Civil Engineering
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Project lead; providing thermochemical and rheological data, and particle characterisation
Collaborator Contribution Modelling of microscale and mesoscale properties of materials; characterisation of concrete mixtures and durability performance; development of advanced admixtures for performance control. Collaborative discussion, drafting and submission of research outcomes.
Impact All project outcomes relate to this collaboration
Start Year 2014
 
Description ASTM Committee C01 Working Group WK42602 New Test Method for Standard test method for compressive strength of alkali activated coal fly ash and raw or calcined natural pozzolan cement mortars (using 2-inch or [50 mm] cube specimens) 
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 Prof JL Provis invited to participate in the drafting of a new ASTM standard for testing of geopolymer materials - working group currently active, ~12 members, but reach will be many thousands of ASTM members once standard is approved and published.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017,2018
URL https://www.astm.org/WorkItems/WK42602.htm
 
Description Chatham House Consultation on Intellectual Property and Sustainable Cements for the European Climate Foundation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Consultation meetings (Prof JL Provis one of 5 invited academic participants) on the role of intellectual property in innovative cement technology in enabling sustainable development. One meeting held to date, future workshops and reports are planned by Chatham House, Cambridge IP, and the European Climate Foundation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Nanocem Roadmapping 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Nanocem group (European industry-academic collaboration consortium) roadmapping the future of cement materials research for dissemination to industry and across the research community
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.nanocem.org/
 
Description RILEM Technical Committee on Durability Testing of Alkali-activated Materials (TC 247-DTA) 
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 RILEM TC 247-DTA, an international (>12 countries) committee which is chaired by Prof JL Provis and has more than 50 members (including UK-side co-Is Bernal Lopez, Basheer, Nanukuttan and Soutsos, China-side PI Chen, and PDRAs Bondar and Tan participating in committee events), is conducting durability testing of alkali-activated cements and concretes. The project work in "Rational design of low-CO2 alkali-activated concretes for eco-efficiency and durability" directly influences and contributes to the outcomes of this technical committee, as the testwork done in the project is communicated to partners and incorporated into the outcomes of the round-robin tests of the committee. The eventual outcome will be inclusion in RILEM Recommendations, which are a pre-standardisation step and often included into formal standardisation processes at EN and ASTM levels.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014,2015,2016,2017
URL http://www.rilem.org/gene/main.php?base=8750&gp_id=290
 
Description Talk - Expedition, London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Lunchtime talk on alkali-activated cements and concretes for Expedition (practice of engineers/architects), London, as part of their lunchtime seminar series
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://expedition.uk.com/
 
Description UNE 10YFP 
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 Working group of United Nations Environment 10 Year Framework Programme, following on from previous UNEP group and reconstituted in 10YFP. Initial report published in final form 2018, and further activities ongoing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019
URL http://web.unep.org/10yfp
 
Description United Nations Environment Program Sustainable Building and Climate Initiative (UNEP-SBCI) Working Group on Eco-Efficient Cements 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact International working group (~25 members, Prof JL Provis is one of two UK academics invited to participate) coordinated by UNEP and assessing eco-friendly options for the future of the cement and concrete industry. Meetings held in Paris, Beijing, Sao Paulo to date (JL Provis attended all to represent UK). Working group has drafted a Report (http://www.nanocem.org/fileadmin/nanocem_files/documents/misc/2016-UNEP_Report.pdf) and a set of White Papers on technological and societal options; the paper on Alkali-Activated Materials (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cemconres.2017.02.009) will be released free to the public as part of an Open Access Special Issue of the journal Cement and Concrete Research dedicated to the White Papers of this Working Group. The results and philosophy of the EPSRC project "Rational design of low-CO2 alkali-activated concretes for eco-efficiency and durability" underpin much of the University of Sheffield contribution to the Working Group, as this is focused on efficient and effective design of durable alternative cementitious materials. Following the success of the Working Group, UNEP have invited us to carry on the work as a network under the UNEP Sustainable Buildings and Construction Programme of the 10 Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production (UNEP 10YFP SBC), and the Sheffield team will be a part of this ongoing initiative.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017
URL http://www.nanocem.org/fileadmin/nanocem_files/documents/misc/2016-UNEP_Report.pdf
 
Description Visit - Sumitomo and U.Tokyo, Sep 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Visit to Sumitomo Mitsui Corp to discuss setup of new project, and presentation at U.Tokyo to academic and industry colleagues interested in the work
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018