Can Cement be green ?

For well over 1000 years cement has been a major building material. The builders of ancient Rome made use of this magical building material and it can still be seen in buildings like the Colliseum. It is an amazing thing that a liquid slurry can cure into a solid rock of any shape you might like. Current building codes call for foundations to be built using concrete with iron rods embedded for additional strength. Some of the most promising building technologies are insulated concrete forms that are put into place, filled with concrete and stay in place as insulation for the building. The resulting buildings are stronger than wooden structures and in many cases better insulated.

So it’s a damned shame that the creation of cement (hydrated lime) is a high heat process that, in its current form, consumes huge amounts of energy and results in a huge amount of hydrocarbons being released into the atmosphere. This has given a marvelous building material a black eye among the eco-conscious folk. And honestly, who doesn’t want to be conscious of the environment and a good steward of the earth ? I do. I even have a degree in Environmental Science to prove it. But I also love the ease of use and permanency of concrete when it comes to building. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to get great results with concrete, but if often helps to have a strong back.

So we now have the news that a few Imperial College folks over in England have started a company to market a new type of cement. Instead of using lime as a base, they are using magnesium oxide and a few other undisclosed minerals. I don’t how this compares strengthwise to portland cement, but the claim is that this type of cement absorbs CO2 and in fact absorbs more than is produced in creating or transporting it.

Sounds good so far. This could be a huge boon to those wanting to make homebuilding a more environmentally responsible endeavor. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find anywhere one can purchase this miracle compound. There isn’t anything on their website that indicates it is available for purchase, and you’d think there would be some mention of it. They appear to be hiring, but the mission appears to be to getting some big money and a foot in the door of huge international building projects. As with most “innovative” solar photo-voltaic products, it appears this is only going to be available to the mega-corporations who can bankroll the startup company with instant millions. Maybe if we’re lucky it will eventually be marketed on a more local scale so the real innovators, owner builders, can make use of it. I hope it happens in my lifetime.


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