Graphene often gets discussed in gee-whiz applications like post-CMOS electronics, or solar cells that can provide extremely high electricity-to-light conversion ratios.
However, it is perhaps in the more mundane aspects of our world that graphene is providing an important impact. The perfect example of this is graphene in concrete—a material that has been with us since the ancient Romans. In a feature at the beginning of the year, The Graphene Council reported on how the addition of graphene oxide is providing concrete with greater compressive and tensile strength.
Now researchers at the University of Exeter in the UK have developed a technique for adding graphene to concrete that provides such a wide gamut of new and improved properties that some are predicting that it could revolutionize the construction industry.
In research described in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, the University of Exeter researchers demonstrated that the addition of graphene to concrete could improve the material’s compressive strength by 149 percent. This compressive strength increase was accompanied with a 79 per cent increase in flexural strength, a 400 per cent decrease in water permeability, and improved electrical and thermal performance.
The key to this development is that it is completely compatible with today’s large-scale production of concrete. It simply involves suspending atomically thin graphene in water. The resulting process keeps costs low and results in very few defects in the end product
“This ground-breaking research is important as it can be applied to large-scale manufacturing and construction,” said Dimitar Dimov, a PhD student at the University of Exeter and the lead author of the research. “The industry has to be modernized by incorporating not only off-site manufacturing, but innovative new materials as well.”
What may grab the headlines beyond its improved properties is that the graphene-enabled concreted appeals to so-called green manufacturing.
“By including graphene we can reduce the amount of materials required to make concrete by around 50 per cent — leading to a significant reduction of 446 kilograms per ton of the carbon emissions,” said Monica Craciun, professor at Exeter and co-author of the research. “This unprecedented range of functionalities and properties uncovered are an important step in encouraging a more sustainable, environmentally-friendly construction industry worldwide.”