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A Hard Job for Geopolymers: Replacing Portland Cement

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Photo courtesy of Blue World Crete
Green concrete startup has developed a cement that forms at low temperatures.
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Materials

A Florida company's new geopolymer binder, which promises to enable eco-friendly materials that compete with portland cement, is undergoing testing in the U.S. and the Middle East.

Blue World Crete, whose eponymously named firm is based in Pompano Beach, Fla., is one of many ongoing efforts to lower concrete's carbon footprint. Even so, experts are skeptical it can offer an alternative to the world's most popular building material: portland cement.

The startup claims to have developed a synthetic alternative to traditional cement. Inorganic chemicals and raw materials that are mainly derived from industrial by-products create high concrete strengths of up to 10,000 psi, it claims.

“My catalyst can take advantage of any kind of aluminosilicate,” says Daniel Panitz, the company's CEO.

Traditional cement has become a target of environmental criticism because its production releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. About one ton of carbon is emitted per ton of portland cement produced, constituting about 5% of the world's industrial carbon emissions.

Blue World Crete's binder forms at ambient temperatures, requiring 90% less energy than portland cement. It also can be placed with traditional methods.

Such recipes rely on geopolymers, which are ceramic-like substances formed at low temperatures, according to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia's national science agency.

Blue World Crete paddle-mixes its proprietary geopolymer with various types of ash material. This process excites a chemical reaction with the aluminosilicate in the ash to create a binding agent that can be used to manufacture concrete, block and other materials.

This cement chemistry is hardly new. Builders in the former Soviet Union began constructing high-rises and other concrete structures using geopolymers in the 1960s. In Australia, a company called Zeobond Group uses its own geopolymers to manufacture E-Crete, which claims to reduce the amount of carbon embedded in concrete by 60%. Wider industry adoption has been slow.

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