Unless it is augmented with graphene, watching concrete dry might not be the most thrilling activity. Graphene was initially isolated in 2004 by scientists at The University of Manchester and has become iconic in materials research, with applications ranging from energy storage and water filtering to transportation and construction, including concrete.
A new future for cement is being facilitated by graphene. Soon, everyone will have the option to select the color, texture, and features that they want very soon. More significantly, though, and even more so than its practicality and beauty, the increasing global sustainability movement is rekindling interest in the possibilities of concrete enriched with graphene.
The building sector is confronted with a plethora of obstacles in light of Net Zero aims, and a viable path toward progress could be through the extensive integration of cutting-edge materials. Cement production accounts for 8–10% of worldwide CO2 emissions, making it one of the industries with the largest carbon footprints.
Researchers are trying to find commercially feasible solutions for sustainability throughout the whole lifecycle of buildings and the built environment, from the construction phase to operation and end-of-life, and are currently working on ways to lessen the impact of the industry by using graphene to significantly reduce the amount of cement, concrete, and steel required in building projects.
Researchers have discovered that graphene admixtures can improve concrete’s compressive, tensile, and flexural strength as well as speed up the curing process, lessen cracks, and decrease water and salt penetration. These findings have been made through lab tests and extensive site trials. Currently, efforts are being made to certify and verify graphene-infused concrete so that it can be widely used in the building sector.
This is the result of ground-breaking research by Manchester engineers who mixed small amounts of graphene (also known as “Concretene”) with concrete. With the GEIC industry partner Nationwide Engineering, it has been shown on a commercial scale that this permits a build project to reduce material by up to 30% without compromising the project’s strength or integrity. As a result, using Concretene is not only possibly less expensive but also much greener.
Since everyone is now involved in the practical commercialization of graphene, it is possible to observe the growing industrial “pull” for graphene innovation, which is being driven by sustainability as opposed to the conventional technology “push” of earlier advances in materials science.
Manchester is the home of graphene worldwide. Through Graphene@Manchester, the University is actively promoting ongoing research, innovation, and commercialization. It also embraces open innovation, or the Manchester innovation model, and supports a burgeoning startup ecosystem at its accelerator hub, the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC), located in Manchester’s The Masdar Building.
Since there are multiple “Graphenes” and 2D materials that are best suited for a wide range of applications, this open ecosystem is crucial because there are no single Graphene solutions for the issues the world is addressing. Of course, there are also numerous variables with concrete, such as the local climate and water supply. A considerable amount of “know-how” is still required to acquire the correct formulation.
Although the work with concrete is still in its early stages, researchers are moving quickly toward enhanced applications of graphene, especially in the United Arab Emirates.
The Road to Commercialization
As sustainability creates new momentum for concrete innovation, particularly in the UAE, the focus is entirely on graphene-enhanced polymer composite concrete (zero cement and water) with another GEIC partner, Graphene Innovations Manchester (GIM). Although it is not yet appropriate for tall buildings, this has a lot of potential for developing roads and other civil infrastructure.
It also makes use of recovered plastic waste, which adds to the benefit of reducing and reusing waste materials—an issue that is becoming more and more of a concern in the UAE and around the world.
Dr. Vivek Koncherry, a graduate of Manchester University, launched GIM and recently inked a Memorandum of Understanding with Quazar Investment Company to establish a new business in the United Arab Emirates. With a $1 billion investment plan, this will be one of the most ambitious commercialization of graphene projects to date since it will expedite state-of-the-art R&D into large-scale manufacturing.
This new business will use cutting-edge 2D materials to create and manufacture high-quality, eco-friendly products. One of the products that will be produced is revolutionary Graphene-enhanced concrete, which can be made with recyclable materials and requires no cement or water.
This is a turning point in the commercialization of graphene since it shows how confidently this cutting-edge substance can be used in guiding the world toward net zero emissions.
The GIM method promises value creation and more: a merging of the physical and digital in line with the UAE’s aspirations for smart cities, a smart and functional cement with a variety of colors, textures, and features in which sensors and membranes might also be included.
Naturally, inquiries concerning design codes, the certification process for novel materials, and their performance after 20 years will come from the building industry. Even if they might not yet have all the information or technical know-how, GIM is willing to take chances on small-scale projects, is producing quality data and results, and is building a lot of trust.
Comparisons can be drawn between the people who once thought that “plastic planes” would never take to the air and those who are now almost universally using carbon fiber.
The UAE is quickly establishing itself as the world’s innovation lab and test bench. Abu Dhabi is critical to the Graphene ecosystem, with Masdar and the Khalifa University of Science and Technology collaborating on research and commercialization with Graphene@Manchester.
GEIC is a catalyst for creativity, and the Manchester innovation model scales this and fosters a ‘make or break’ approach to application testing. Graphene is a perfect fit with the UAE's mission and has the necessary resources and talent-the country obviously intends to create the future, as was seen in this Year of Sustainability.
Li, J., et al. (2023) Chemically Controlled Reversible Magnetic Phase Transition in Two-Dimensional Organometallic Lattices. Nano Letters. doi:10.1021/acs.nanolett.3c03060