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Read about the volcanic ash that could bring 'significant energy savings' to building projects.

Posted on Feb 28, 2018 6:41:00 PM

Volcanic dust can strengthen concrete [Credit-National Park Service].jpg"What we’ve found out is that concrete can be manufactured with natural additives with desired properties, and reduced embodied energy, which can be translated into significant energy savings."

Materials from the centre of the earth could one day be used in the building blocks of the future, replacing volcanic ash with a percentage of cement that lowers the carbon footprint of any building development, says a US educational institute. Concrete uses a vast amount of energy owing to the heats and processes involved in making it but it’s been reported that using by replacing Portland cement with 50% of volcanic dust, created by pulverizing volcanic rocks, would lower energy consumption by around a sixth.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has teamed up with scientists in Kuwait to explore the viability of using volcanic dust in future building projects and lowering the dependency on cement, which the MIT said is the world’s most abundantly used material after water.

“What we’ve found out is that concrete can be manufactured with natural additives with desired properties, and reduced embodied energy, which can be translated into significant energy savings when you are creating a neighbourhood or a city,” said Oral Buyukozturk, a professor of the MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Embodied energy is the energy consumed by all of the processes associated with the production of a building. According to the MIT, the production of Portland cement produces around 5% of the world’s CO2 emissions.

The benefits of using volcanic dust don’t just extend to environmental improvements, however, as there is proof that buildings using volcanic dust in their construction can also increase their strength. It was reported in 2016 by GeoScienceWorld that the reason why Ancient Rome’s see walls are so durable is because they too had discovered the properties of volcanic dust, using a mixture of ash, lime, seawater and the mineral aluminium tobermorite that actually reinforced the concrete due to the chemical reaction that took place. The seawater that penetrated the solidified concrete was found to strengthen it still further.

Commenting on the MIT’s latest findings, Buyukozturk explained that the process was fully customisable and, with varying quantities of volcanic dust providing different results. “If it is for a traffic block, for example, where you may not need as much strength as, say, for a high-rise building. So you could produce those things with much less energy. That is huge if you think of the amount of concrete that’s used over the world.”


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Dave Songer