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Could Concrete Ever Be Replaced by Another Material?

18 Jun 2019, Posted by F.A. in Concrete Facts, News

Since the time of the Roman Empire, concrete has symbolized and brought forth civilization. This building block of modernity originated in the Middle East and was perfected by Roman engineers, only to be forgotten for a time, until the material’s rediscovery by Englishman Joseph Aspdin in 1824, followed closely by Symons forms which have been in the concrete market for over a century.

Both Aspdin’s Portland cement and Symons forms have remained with modern civilization since, constructing the skyscrapers, bridges, highways, and homes of the United States and beyond.

As the world in 2019 looks forward to a more efficient, environmentally friendly future, proponents of alternatives to concrete have stepped forward, suggesting that their new material can and will eventually replace this staple.

Will concrete ever be replaced? Anything is possible, although concrete will likely remain the primary choice for construction for decades at least. However, these alternatives should be understood and assessed as the construction industry trends towards efficiency and economy. Here are three realistic alternatives to concrete that will likely see some sort of large-scale implementation later this century.

Artificial Bone

As grim as the initial mental image suggests, artificial bone is seen by some experts as a realistic alternative to concrete. As steel and concrete account for one tenth of carbon emissions worldwide, major cities like New York and London are searching for other ways to support an ever-expanding population while keeping emissions under control.

As these urban environments struggle to provide space for residents, the only way to go is up. One possibility is the prospect of artificial bone as a replacement for concrete, designed to self-heal and resists erosion and damage. Artificial bone could very well be present in urban skylines of the latter 21st century, as suggested by Dr. Michelle Oyen of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering.

Dr. Oyen has successfully constructed small samples of artificial bone and eggshell in her laboratory, which she claims could be used as building materials. Dr. Oyen theorizes lattice-type structures, combining the composites of artificial bone and eggshell could perhaps create a stronger solution. Time and availability of funding will tell, for now, Dr. Oyen’s proposal is just that, a ‘what if’ scenario for the future.

Timber

Dr. Oyen’s colleague at the University of Cambridge, Dr. Michael Ramage, offers a different solution for an environmentally friendly alternative to concrete: timber. Having recently delivered plans for an 80-story, timber skyscraper to the Mayor of London, Dr. Ramage cites historical buildings such as King’s College Chapel and Westminster Hall as proof of the strength and durability of the old, but not-so-obvious alternative.

Dr. Ramage foresees a future where this renewable resource is utilized in offsite modular construction, and quickly assembled in bustling cities. Currently, the tallest timber building in the world stands in Bergen, Norway at just 14-stories, but Dr. Ramage assures that this material is vastly underestimated and underused. Time and study will tell if there is merit to his hypothesis.      

Ferrock

Thanks to its accidental discovery, chemist David Stone’s carbon-negative “Ferrock” is frequently cited by experts as an alternative to concrete. Consisting primarily of iron dust and silica, both of which can be obtained through recycling, Ferrock hardens when exposed to high concentrations carbon dioxide, which it absorbs and traps.

While the material is still in its development phase, it is reportedly 5 times tougher than conventional concrete, while technically being made of crushed glass (silica). Mr. Stone has since received funding from the University of Arizona and other donors to develop his material, and very well may possess the material, which, if it doesn’t replace concrete, will join concrete as a reliable component of construction. These alternatives offer exciting opportunities for an environmentally friendly and sustainable future, albeit a likely distant future. While there are significant resources being pooled into research and development of these alternatives, it is unlikely that concrete will be replaced as the number one choice of construction companies in the near future. At Forming America, we’re still standing by concrete’s reliability. Contact us today to learn about our concrete form rentals.