Graphene concrete, what is it and how does it work?

01/14/2022 – The use ofadjective Smart it is more and more frequent in recent years in different sectors, from the production to the commercial one. Smart, in intelligent Italian, indicates the ability of those materials or products to respond skillfully and promptly to solicitations as well as to external commands.

Also in the construction world, whose production process is increasingly industrializing, smart materials are having interesting developments.

Accomplice of this diffusion is certainly the change of trend of the construction methodology, today aimed at the principles of eco-sustainability, energy saving and safety; characteristics that require high-performance and intelligent materials.

An example of intelligent materials is given by composite materials, in which the union of two materials creates a third that has properties and performances superior to the constituent materials. FRP, FRMC, CRM are composite materials. Today in Italy the use of these materials in architecture is still quite limited, except for the recovery and restoration of the existing heritage.

Nanomaterials and therefore the nanomaterials belong to the family of smart materials nanotechnologies, which guarantee the development of building materials that are resistant, light and long lasting. The need on the part of the market for products that are particularly attentive to health and safety has led several manufacturers to use nanotechnologies in the formulation of their products, such as concretes, paints or insulating materials that can help improve energy efficiency. . The use of nanomaterials is also responsible for the significant reduction of CO2 emissions from concrete.

There is also another innovative and very interesting material, still the subject of studies and research, but which promises significant developments in the coming years. This is theAugmented Wood, literally enhanced wood. It was created by the French biologist and architect Timothée Boitouzet, founder of the start-up Woodoo. Boitouzet by making changes to the internal composition of the material (replacing the lignin with a new type of polymer) has created a smart wood to be used for eco-sustainable, renewable and natural constructions.

To the list are added the chromogenic glasses (photochromic, thermochromic and electrochromic) capable of achieving the energy saving of the envelope.

But, of all intelligent materials, the evolution that has affected concrete is certainly the one with the greatest resonance. In fact, we speak of the era of smart concrete.
This new technology allows to create a product that is not only performing from a constructive point of view but is able, at the same time, to provide monitoring indications on the health of reinforced concrete structures.

It may seem like something out of science fiction, but in reality it exists, although still the subject of study and research.

Last year, exactly on May 6, the first slab of smart concrete to the world, used for the construction of the floor of the new gym Southern Quarter in Amesbury’s Solstice Park, the construction company was Nationwide Engineering.

But what is a smart concrete? A concrete in which a new material is added to the mix: the Graphene.

Graphene is a 2D material: a sheet of carbon the thickness of an atom. It was discovered in 2004 in a chemistry laboratory in England and was quickly renamed the “wonder material“, Because it is a material with exceptional properties: strong, light, capable of conducting electricity and heat, with extraordinary mechanical properties of resistance and flexibility.

The properties of graphene ©

The addition of small amounts of graphene in the casting to make the flooring of the aforementioned gymnasium has allowed to strengthen the slab by about 30% more than standard RC30 concrete, which means that much less material is required to achieve equivalent structural performance.

The interest in this material has led the European Union to launch one of the most important research initiatives on the development of new technologies related to materials Graphene Flagship.

There are several partners collaborating in the research. Italy is represented by study centers, universities and manufacturing companies.

Among the latter we find Italcementi which in 2019 exhibited at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, inside the pavilion dedicated to graphnene, a mock-up which showed the functioning of an underfloor heating thanks to the use of a thin layer of graphene cementitious composite placed between the screed and the surface of the flooring.

The combination of concrete and graphene makes it possible to create a electrically conductive cementitious composite. Therefore, the possible applications and advantages are many, especially considering that concrete is the most used building material in the world.

A highly conductive concrete can be used for the underfloor or wall heating, using extremely reduced thicknesses.

Graphene concrete, what is it and how does it work? The mock-up on display at MWC 2019 © Italcementi

A smart concrete could pave the way not only for multiple smart solutions for homes but also for revolutionary applications in the entire construction, infrastructure and mobility sector.

For example, they can heat the external surfaces offering anti-freeze solutions for cycle paths, ramps, airport runways and in general for all driveways and pedestrian areas, ensuring greater safety and eliminating the use of antifreeze chemicals.

According to Italcementi, thanks to the ability of graphene to conduct electricity, in the medium term it will be possible to use concretes capable of initiating a structural monitoring of buildings, they are called self-sensing solutions, able to monitor stresses, deformations, crack patterns. This translates into timely maintenance, greater durability of the works and above all greater safety.

Still exploiting the characteristic of electrical conductor, in the field of mobility, the possibility of creating gods is being studied manti stradali in smart concrete capable of recharging electric cars on the go.

There are many other experimental studies on the application of graphene as a building material. Are these only futuristic researches, which will remain so? Or, on the contrary, will they materialize into something that will radically change our habits and lifestyle? To date there is no certain answer, research is progressing and investments are important, therefore it is possible to say “the difficult sentence to posterity”!

Source: Le ultime news dal mondo dell'edilizia by

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