Forschungs- & Entwicklungsinformationsdienst der Gemeinschaft - CORDIS

Final Activity Report Summary - NANOCEM (Fundamental understanding of cementitious materials for improved chemical physical and aesthetic performance)

Even though cement and concrete are the most widely used building materials in the world, they are poorly understood because the fundamental physical and chemical mechanisms underlying the behaviour of cementitious materials are quite complex. When water is mixed with cement and aggregates to form concrete, dozens of chemical species react on a timescale which can vary from seconds to months creating a solid structure which may be in service for hundreds of years. Because of the enormous demand for buildings and infrastructure, cement production is currently responsible for 5 % of yearly man-made global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. A way which was shown to reduce the cement CO2 emissions was by adding to cement a fraction of supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs), e.g. slags, fly ash and silica fume. Not only did the use of these SCMs make cement more sustainable, but it proved to be a key component to improving resistance and durability of concrete.

Traditionally, research has been largely empirically based. In a break from this, the 15 projects in the Marie Curie research training network (RTN) NANOCEM looked at understanding mechanisms at a fundamental level. The nine early stage researchers (ESRs) and six experienced researchers (ERs) worked in four interrelated areas, namely transversal (five projects), deterioration of cement matrices (four projects), physical and mechanical verification of performance (three projects) and innovative cement-based materials (three projects). The projects used a common reference base of materials and procedures. This provided an unprecedented opportunity to integrate data from a critical mass of multidisciplinary characterisation techniques and greatly enhanced the possibility to compare results from the different teams.

Seventeen partners including six Universities, five Institutes, five large Industrial companies and one small and medium enterprise (SME) from nine countries brought their own complementary equipment and expertise. To make the project truly intersectorial an industrial advisor was appointed to each project and a part of each research project was carried out in the laboratory of one of the industrial partners to give the fellows experience in research and development from an industrial point of view. The research projects were completed by six training courses and the many network wide and coordination meetings. The training courses, given by the leading experts from universities, institutes and industry tackled all aspects of cementitious materials, such as characterisation, durability, mechanics, sustainability and innovation to which lectures on project management, careers in industry and patents were added.

The recruitment strategy worked in terms of equal opportunity, thus nine out of the 16 fellows were women. It was an open competition at international level with three fellows from France, one from Spain, two from Italy, three from Poland, one from Hungary and one from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Brazil, Argentina and Russia.

The fellows greatly appreciated the interdisciplinary and intersectorial character of the network, with exchange of different perspectives and cross fertilisation. Many important scientific results were obtained. The network highlights included:

1. revelation of 'smart' behaviour with respect to release of corrosion inhibitor by carbonation
2. understanding of distribution of sulfate and alumina between hydrate phases
3. integrated modelling of mechanical properties across length scales
4. evidence of highly flawed nature of existing performance tests for sulfate attack suggestions for improved methodologies
5. inorganic and organic composites with improved mechanical properties, but unfortunately at very high cost and complexity.

All results were collected in a book which was planned to be published in 2011, nine PhD theses and a range of important articles in scientific journals. The close and continuing interaction with the industrial partners ensured excellent knowledge transfer towards practice. The article 'Nano-scale sets the agenda for concrete' published in the magazine Projects, British Publishers, January 2010, pg 114-116, provided a good overview of the project.

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