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  • Writer's pictureRick Heggs

Making Concrete More Sustainable with Biorenewable Materials

It is hard to imagine the modern world without the use of concrete. From roads and sidewalks to building foundations and soaring skyscrapers, concrete has formed much of the world in which we live. Concrete is a marvelously versatile material that can be shaped in many ways and has been in use since the days of the Roman Empire. However, concrete has a dirty little secret—it contains an incredibly energy-intensive material, Portland cement, which is the glue that holds concrete together. It has been estimated that 6 to 8% of the worldwide carbon emissions are due to the widespread production of Portland cement. It is no wonder that the concrete industry is fertile ground for developing biorenewable and sustainable products to improve its environmental profile.

Biobased materials have a long history in applications such as concrete form releases, pavement joint sealers, curing agents, stains, and sealers, in addition to solvents for cleaning. The good news is that commercial use of these sustainable products in concrete applications has accelerated in recent years.

Today, there are many examples of biorenewable materials on the market.There are a significant number of manufacturers for nontoxic, environmentally friendly release agents for wood and steel forms used to shape the concrete. Other products include sealers and stains, and curing agents. These are biobased and significantly improve the life-cycle of concrete and reduce waste. Biobased flow additives increase the fluidity of cement products, allowing greater aggregate loading, which can reduce the amount of water used in the mix, thus increasing the compressive strength of Portland cement products.

Most of these plant-based feedstocks include vegetable oils, such as soybean, canola, corn, tall oil, and associated fatty acids. Vegetable oils are natural lubricants; therefore, they are excellent for mold release agents. Their hydrophobic properties and beneficial to coat wet concrete to slow cure and make the concrete more uniform. Additionally, they increase the water contact angle for excellent moisture resistance and water repellency. They make great sealants by adding protection against corrosive and staining liquids and color damage.

Many biobased cleaning solvents on the market are typically safe to use, with a high flash point, low odor, and low VOCs.

Emerging technologies continue to be developed for sustainable concrete applications. PoreShield, a concrete durability enhancer, was developed by Purdue University and commercialized by the Indiana Soybean Alliance. This product combines soy methyl ester with recycled or virgin polystyrene to form a homogeneous mixture. This is used as a treatment to make the concrete more hydrophobic and penetrating the pores of the concrete, creating a self-healing barrier for long-term durability. A global leader in building and construction materials, Sika has developed many biobased concrete products. These products not only incorporate materials such as calcined clay and fly ash, but more recently hemp fibers are gaining popularity in sprayable cement insulation materials. Using plant-based aggregates in concrete effectively decreases its bulk density the environmental impact and improves the thermal insulation property.

These are just a few of many biobased products utilized in the concrete industry today, with many more in development. Concrete is the essential building material that has shaped our modern world, and biobased materials are critical to building the sustainable world of tomorrow.

Interested in exploring new bio-based materials to expand your sustainable materials portfolio?

Omni Tech's experienced consultants have expertise in a wide array of bio-based chemistry. They can accelerate your commercial development in coatings, adhesives, composites, polyurethanes, rubber, asphalt, lubricants, surfactants, and infrastructure applications.


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