- Polystyrene concrete blocks generally are made from a mix of cement silica aggregate, recycled polystyrene granules and modifying agents like setting accelerators, according to Interesting Engineering, though each manufacturer has a slightly different formulation.
- The blocks are lighter than traditional concrete and, as such, can reduce required labor for constructing masonry walls while increasing the speed at which they're built. Uses include as an insulation system for new and existing buildings or as a construction material.
- Their composition uses fly ash from thermal power stations, which is a by-product that electrostatic precipitators captures, and silica, which contributes to the product's thermal properties.
Concrete is getting more attention as researchers look to improve it and use the material in new ways. In October, MIT researchers started exploring concrete at its atomic level to improve its durability and environmental impact in full-scale use. Researchers will develop a computer model that will be able to gauge concrete's durability when other additives, especially locally sourced ones, are used.
At the University of Utah, researchers are trying to replicate Ancient Roman concrete using seawater from San Francisco Bay area and volcanic rock. Because so many Ancient Roman structures are not only still standing, but getting stronger with age, researchers hope that recreating the material will be beneficial for building more robust seawalls to prevent coastal flooding.
Eco-friendly ductile cementitious composite (EDCC) is a concrete reinforced by polymer-based fibers that resists seismic activity. Engineered by University of British Columbia researchers in October, the material is similar to steel's molecular make-up. Nearly 70% of the cement is replaced with fly ash, making it a more sustainable material; this is especially important because although cement comprises only 10% of an average concrete mix, its production accounts for 80% of the environmental impact.
Not only is concrete's composition changing, but applications in which concrete is an appropriate material are expanding, especially in the 3-D printing space. RCAM Technologies is working with a $1.25 million grant from the California Energy Commission to develop and test 3-D printing technology so 140-meter-tall concrete turbine towers can be constructed onsite.
Across the Atlantic, engineers at the Netherlands Eindhoven University of Technology produced the world's first 3-D printed concrete bridge. The 26-foot-long structure, intended for cyclists, comprises 800 layers of reinforced, pre-stressed concrete. Three-dimensional printing, which took three months, lessened the amount of required concrete need to build the structure, making the bridge more sustainable than its traditionally made counterparts.