Wood and concrete strengthens bridges

Wednesday 2 May 2018

Researchers at Purdue have been studying if concrete is stronger by infusing it with wood crystals. The news is good so they are moving from the laboratory to the real world with a bridge that will to be built in California later in 2018.

The researchers have been working with cellulose nanocrystals, byproducts generated by the paper, bioenergy, agriculture and pulp industries, to find the best mixture to strengthen concrete, the most common man-made material in the world.

“Simply getting out there where people can actually drive on it, I think, is a huge step because you can't just say it's a lab curiosity at that point. It has real-world implications,” said Jeffrey Youngblood, a Purdue professor of materials engineering.

Strengthening concrete could have other implications, such as making items made with concrete thinner and lighter while retaining the same strength with a potential side benefit of decreasing carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Cement plants account for an estimated 8 percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide, a main cause of climate change.

The catalyst for this potentially transformative change is a cellulose nanocrystal about 100 nanometers long and 5 nanometers wide, too small to be seen using an ordinary microscope. It can be seen only using an electron microscope. For perspective, a human hair is about 100,000 nanometers wide. Yet cellulose is the most common polymer in the world because it can be obtained from wood products, plants, bacteria and algae.

The cellulose nanocrystals make the concrete stronger through a chemical reaction that increases the hydration of the cement particles, making the concrete stronger, the researchers say. “The strength of concrete scales with the degree of hydration. So the more hydrated it is, the stronger it is,” Youngblood said. “So you’d think if you add more water it would be stronger. The problem is, water adds pores that make it weaker. But cellulose nanocrystals enhance hydration with less water, making the concrete stronger.”

Pablo Zavattieri, a professor in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering, said the cellulose nanocrystals provide an avenue for the water to go where it is needed. Not all cement particles are hydrated when concrete is mixed, which hampers the strength and durability of the concrete.

“The good thing about cellulose nanocrystals is it kind of creates a rail for the water to go into a particle, Zavattieri said.

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Source: Purdue University News

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