Alkali-activated materials: the role of molecular-scale research and lessons from the energy transition to combat climate change
Keywords:Sustainability, Alternative cements, Durability, Alkali-activated concrete, Materials Science
Alternative (i.e., non-Portland) cements, such as alkali-activated materials, have gained significant interest from the scientific community due to their proven CO2 savings compared with Portland cement together with known short-term performance properties. However, the concrete industry remains dominated by Portland cement-based concrete. This Letter explores the technical and non-technical hurdles preventing implementation of an alternative cement, such as alkali-activated materials, in the concrete industry and discusses how these hurdles can be overcome. Specifically, it is shown that certain technical hurdles, such as a lack of understanding how certain additives affect setting of alkali-activated materials (and Portland cement) and the absence of long-term in-field performance data of these sustainable cements, can be mitigated via the use of key molecular- and nano-scale experimental techniques to elucidate dominant material characteristics, including those that control long-term performance. In the second part of this Letter the concrete industry is compared and contrasted with the electricity generation industry, and specifically the transition from one dominant technology (i.e., coal) to a diverse array of energy sources including renewables. It is concluded that financial incentives and public advocacy (akin to advocacy for renewables in the energy sector) would significantly enhance uptake of alternative cements in the concrete industry.
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