Not Your Father's Concrete

by Harry Goldstein, Assistant Editor; Civil Engineering, 345 E. 47th St., NY, NY 10017,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1995, Vol. 65, Issue 5, Pg. 60-63

Document Type: Feature article


A simple mixture of water, aggregate and cement, conventional concrete is environmentally-friendly by nature. But with landfills bloating and hazardous wastes becoming increasingly difficult to dispose of, the concrete industry is revanping cement manufacturing as well as introducing a new generation of concrete additives and admixtures made from recycled materials in an effort to meet the demands of a green marketplace. The recipe for a good concrete mix is a little like one for homemade chili: it was passed down to you. You start with the same base you've always used then toss in other ingredients to create the desired effect: cayenne pepper for a slow burn, jalapenos for a burst of flavor, maybe leftover beans, rice or vegetables, some corn meal for texture, and finally a dash of beer or tobasco to taste. For years, the concrete industry used the same basic recipe: water, aggregate and cement, with a few additives and admixtures thrown in for various effects. Now the industry is trying out some new ingredients processed from old materials, finally exploiting concrete's environmentally beneficial properties. Whether it's recycling hazardous wastes or containing them in concrete reinforced with recycled styrofoam, the industry is betting that concrete can be a major tool in conserving natural resources and in the disposal of wastes that threaten to bury us far faster than we can pave over them. The only substance people consume more of than concrete is water; every year one ton of concrete is produced for each person on earth. Although concrete actually takes a lot less energy to produce than other materials like steel and plastic, the production of cement--the powdery sine qua non that binds concrete's constituent elements and which accounts for 11%-15% of a typical concrete mix--is acutally one of the most energy-intensive manufacturing processes around. With such an intense world-wide thirst for concrete and so much cement needed to keep up with the demand, there is a movement afoot in the concrete industry to do more than merely increase cement production to make more concrete. Innovative companies, researchers, and industry coalitions have realized that the life cycle of a concrete slab can be one of perpetual regeneration, starting with cement's infernal birthplace--the kiln, which in many cement plants now doubles as a hazardous waste or tire incinerator.

Subject Headings: Concrete | Cement | Recycling | Materials processing | Hazardous wastes | Waste disposal | Reinforced concrete

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