waste valorisation; building materials; cement based materials; eco-friendly concrete; digital concrete
2. Strengthening the circular economy
Although the production of 1 ton of concrete has a lower environmental footprint than the same amount of other conventional building materials, the dependence on this composite material is a serious problem in terms of sustainability. This is mainly because the essential constituent production, PC, has a high environmental impact. Each tonne of PC produced requires around 1.7 ton of non-renewable natural materials, 4 GJ of energy (electricity and fuel) and 0.7 ton of CO2 emissions. Each year it is estimated that world cement production is responsible for using 7000 Mt of non-renewable natural materials, 2% of the global primary energy consumption and 5% of the global industrial energy consumption.
Key strategies to cut carbon emissions in cement production include improving energy efficiency, switching to lower-carbon fuels, promoting material efficiency (to reduce the clinker-to-cement ratio and total demand) and advancing process and technology innovations such as carbon capture and storage. The latter two contribute the most to direct emissions reductions in the net zero emissions by 2050 scenario. Adopting material efficiency strategies to optimise the use of cement can help reduce demand along the entire construction value chain, helping to cut CO2 emissions from cement production.
Alternatives cement replacement materials, usually called supplementary cementitious materials (SCM) have been under scrutiny by the scientific community last decades. Materials that can partially replace PC can be by-products/wastes from agriculture and industry, among others. Many of these wastes, namely from industry, which are currently disposed of or less valuable, may provide an opportunity to boost the efficient use of resources by moving to a cleaner and more circular economy, as aimed by European Green Deal, and contributing to a more resource-efficient and competitive economy in EU
Accordingly, at FEUP-CONSTRUCT, studies on the feasibility of recycling/valorisation waste materials as SCM to be used in concrete have been carried out in the last decade. Several industrial or agricultural waste materials presented potential to be used in cement-based materials successfully, without impairing workability, hardening, mechanical or durability performance, as waste glass powder granitic quarry sludge waste, wood waste ash, cork waste powder, cork waste ash, spent equilibrium catalyst, construction and demolition waste, among others. Waste materials or by-products from mining or the ornamental stone industry are abundant in Portugal and other European Countries are suggested to be used as filler in cement-based materials, namely, quartz powder, dolomite, granite powder, and marble powder.
With origins from the eighteenth century, the University of Porto (UPorto) is one of the most prestigious Higher Education Institutions in Europe. The Faculty of Engineering (FEUP) is the largest faculty of UPorto, with more than 8600 students, 86 courses and close to 600 teachers and researchers across 9 departments of engineering: Chemical, Civil, Electrical and Computer, Industrial and Management, Informatics and Computing, Mechanical, Physics, Metallurgical and Materials, and Mining.
The Institute of R&D in Structures and Construction-CONSTRUCT is a leading R&D unit of UPorto, which hosts 51 PhD integrated members, developing research on safety, serviceability, durability, economy, comfort and Sustainability of Civil Engineering Constructions and providing an excellent scientific environment. Thus, DigiCrete matches CONSTRUCT strategy, demonstrated by previous experience in R&D projects in the development of more sustainable and advanced building materials and technologies and the multitude of scientific publications related to these topics.
CONSTRUCT has access to laboratories with an overall area larger than 3500m2, accommodating equipment evaluated in more than 5M Eur. It is the most extensive and best-equipped laboratory infrastructure in the Civil Engineering Departments of Portuguese Universities.