What is concrete? Concrete is a mix of one part sand, one part aggregate and one part binder agent such as cement.
Many products being sold on the internet as concrete ornaments are in fact made of cement and often do not have any sand or aggregate in them.
Concrete, usually Portland cement concrete, is a composite material composed of fine and coarse aggregate bonded together with a fluid cement that hardens over time—most frequently a lime-based cement binder, such as Portland cement, but sometimes with other hydraulic cements, such as a calcium aluminate cement.
Concrete, usually Portland cement concrete, is a composite material composed of fine and coarse aggregate bonded together with a fluid cement (cement paste) that hardens over time—most frequently a lime-based cement binder, such as Portland cement, but sometimes with other hydraulic cements, such as a calcium aluminate cement. It is distinguished from other, non-cementitious types of concrete all binding some form of aggregate together, including asphalt concrete with a bitumen binder, which is frequently used for road surfaces, and polymer concretes that use polymers as a binder.
When aggregate is mixed together with dry Portland cement and water, the mixture forms a fluid slurry that is easily poured and molded into shape. The cement reacts chemically with the water and other ingredients to form a hard matrix that binds the materials together into a durable stone-like material that has many uses. Often, additives (such as pozzolans or superplasticizers) are included in the mixture to improve the physical properties of the wet mix or the finished material. Most concrete is poured with reinforcing materials (such as rebar) embedded to provide tensile strength, yielding reinforced concrete.
Famous concrete structures include the Hoover Dam, the Panama Canal and the Roman Pantheon. The earliest large-scale users of concrete technology were the ancient Romans, and concrete was widely used in the Roman Empire. The Colosseum in Rome was built largely of concrete, and the concrete dome of the Pantheon is the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. Today, large concrete structures (for example, dams and multi-storey car parks) are usually made with reinforced concrete.
After the Roman Empire collapsed, use of concrete became rare until the technology was redeveloped in the mid-18th century. World-wide, concrete has overtaken steel in tonnage of material used.
Many types of concrete are available, distinguished by the proportions of the main ingredients below. In this way or by substitution for the cementitious and aggregate phases, the finished product can be tailored to its application. Strength, density, as well as chemical and thermal resistance are variables.
Aggregate consists of large chunks of material in a concrete mix, generally a coarse gravel or crushed rocks such as limestone, or granite, along with finer materials such as sand.
Cement, most commonly Portland cement, is associated with the general term “concrete.” A range of other materials can be used as the cement in concrete too. One of the most familiar of these alternative cements is asphalt concrete. Other cementitious materials, such as fly ash and slag cement, are sometimes added as mineral admixtures (see below) – either pre-blended with the cement or directly as a concrete component – and become a part of the binder for the aggregate.
To produce concrete from most cements (excluding asphalt), water is mixed with the dry powder and aggregate, which produces a semi-liquid slurry that can be shaped, typically by pouring it into a form. The concrete solidifies and hardens through a chemical processcalled hydration. The water reacts with the cement, which bonds the other components together, creating a robust stone-like material.
Chemical admixtures are added to achieve varied properties. These ingredients may accelerate or slow down the rate at which the concrete hardens, and impart many other useful properties including increased tensile strength, entrainment of air and water resistance.
Reinforcement is often included in concrete. Concrete can be formulated with high compressive strength, but always has lower tensile strength. For this reason it is usually reinforced with materials that are strong in tension, typically steel rebar.
Mineral admixtures have become more popular over recent decades. The use of recycled materials as concrete ingredients has been gaining popularity because of increasingly stringent environmental legislation, and the discovery that such materials often have complementary and valuable properties. The most conspicuous of these are fly ash, a by-product of coal-fired power plants; ground granulated blast furnace slag, a byproduct of steelmaking; and silica fume, a byproduct of industrial electric arc furnaces. The use of these materials in concrete reduces the amount of resources required, as the mineral admixtures act as a partial cement replacement. This displaces some cement production, an energetically expensive and environmentally problematic process, while reducing the amount of industrial waste that must be disposed of. Mineral admixtures can be pre-blended with the cement during its production for sale and use as a blended cement, or mixed directly with other components when the concrete is produced.
The mix design depends on the type of structure being built, how the concrete is mixed and delivered, and how it is placed to form the structure.
Portland cement is the most common type of cement in general usage. It is a basic ingredient of concrete, mortar and many plasters. British masonry worker Joseph Aspdin patented Portland cement in 1824. It was named because of the similarity of its colour to Portland limestone, quarried from the English Isle of Portland and used extensively in London architecture. It consists of a mixture of calcium silicates (alite, belite), aluminates and ferrites – compounds which combine calcium, silicon, aluminium and iron in forms which will react with water. Portland cement and similar materials are made by heating limestone (a source of calcium) with clay or shale (a source of silicon, aluminium and iron) and grinding this product (called clinker) with a source of sulfate (most commonly gypsum).
In modern cement kilns many advanced features are used to lower the fuel consumption per ton of clinker produced. Cement kilns are extremely large, complex, and inherently dusty industrial installations, and have emissions which must be controlled. Of the various ingredients used to produce a given quantity of concrete, the cement is the most energetically expensive. Even complex and efficient kilns require 3.3 to 3.6 gigajoules of energy to produce a ton of clinker and then grind it into cement. Many kilns can be fueled with difficult-to-dispose-of wastes, the most common being used tires. The extremely high temperatures and long periods of time at those temperatures allows cement kilns to efficiently and completely burn even difficult-to-use fuels.
Combining water with a cementitious material forms a cement paste by the process of hydration. The cement paste glues the aggregate together, fills voids within it, and makes it flow more freely.
As stated by Abrams’ law, a lower water-to-cement ratio yields a stronger, more durable concrete, whereas more water gives a freer-flowing concrete with a higher slump. Impure water used to make concrete can cause problems when setting or in causing premature failure of the structure.
Hydration involves many different reactions, often occurring at the same time. As the reactions proceed, the products of the cement hydration process gradually bond together the individual sand and gravel particles and other components of the concrete to form a solid mass.
- Cement chemist notation: C3S + H → C-S-H + CH
- Standard notation: Ca3SiO5 + H2O → (CaO)·(SiO2)·(H2O)(gel) + Ca(OH)2
- Balanced: 2Ca3SiO5 + 7H2O → 3(CaO)·2(SiO2)·4(H2O)(gel) + 3Ca(OH)2 (approximately; the exact ratios of the CaO, SiO2 and H2O in C-S-H can vary)
Fine and coarse aggregates make up the bulk of a concrete mixture. Sand, natural gravel, and crushed stone are used mainly for this purpose. Recycled aggregates (from construction, demolition, and excavation waste) are increasingly used as partial replacements for natural aggregates, while a number of manufactured aggregates, including air-cooled blast furnace slag and bottom ash are also permitted.
The size distribution of the aggregate determines how much binder is required. Aggregate with a very even size distribution has the biggest gaps whereas adding aggregate with smaller particles tends to fill these gaps. The binder must fill the gaps between the aggregate as well as pasting the surfaces of the aggregate together, and is typically the most expensive component. Thus variation in sizes of the aggregate reduces the cost of concrete. The aggregate is nearly always stronger than the binder, so its use does not negatively affect the strength of the concrete.
Redistribution of aggregates after compaction often creates inhomogeneity due to the influence of vibration. This can lead to strength gradients.
Decorative stones such as quartzite, small river stones or crushed glass are sometimes added to the surface of concrete for a decorative “exposed aggregate” finish, popular among landscape designers.
In addition to being decorative, exposed aggregate may add robustness to a concrete.
Concrete is strong in compression, as the aggregate efficiently carries the compression load. However, it is weak in tension as the cement holding the aggregate in place can crack, allowing the structure to fail. Reinforced concrete adds either steel reinforcing bars, steel fibers, glass fibers, or plastic fibers to carry tensile loads.
The Solution For Concrete Ornaments
Polymer concretes are a type of concrete that use polymers to replace lime-type cements as a binder. In some cases the polymer is used in addition to portland cement to form Polymer Cement Concrete (PCC) or Polymer Modified Concrete (PMC). Polymers in concrete have been overseen by Committee 548 of the American Concrete Institute since 1971.
In polymer concrete, thermoplastic polymers are used, but more typically thermosetting resins are used as the principal polymer component due to their high thermal stability and resistance to a wide variety of chemicals. Polymer concrete is also composed of aggregates that include silica, quartz, granite, limestone, and other high quality material. The aggregate must be of good quality, free of dust and other debris, and dry. Failure to fulfill these criteria can reduce the bond strength between the polymer binder and the aggregate.
Polymer concrete may be used for new construction or repairing of old concrete. The adhesive properties of polymer concrete allow repair of both polymer and conventional cement-based concretes. The low permeability and corrosive resistance of polymer concrete allows it to be used in swimming pools, sewer structure applications, drainage channels, electrolytic cells for base metal recovery, and other structures that contain liquids or corrosive chemicals. It is especially suited to the construction and rehabilitation of manholes due to their ability to withstand toxic and corrosive sewer gases and bacteria commonly found in sewer systems. Unlike traditional concrete structures, polymer concrete requires no coating or welding of PVC-protected seams. It can also be used as a bonded wearing course for asphalt pavement, for higher durability and higher strength upon a concrete substrate.
Polymer concrete has historically not been widely adopted due to the high costs and difficulty associated with traditional manufacturing techniques. However, recent progress has led to significant reductions in cost, meaning that the use of polymer concrete is gradually becoming more widespread.
The exact properties depend on the mixture, polymer, aggregate used etc. etc. but generally speaking with mixtures used:
- The binder is more expensive than cement
- Significantly greater tensile strength than unreinforced Portland concrete (since plastic is ‘stickier’ than cement and has reasonable tensile strength)
- Similar or greater compressive strength to Portland concrete
- Much faster curing
- Good adhesion to most surfaces, including to reinforcements
- Good long-term durability with respect to freeze and thaw cycles
- Low permeability to water and aggressive solutions
- Good chemical resistance
- Good resistance against corrosion
- Lighter weight (slightly less dense than traditional concrete, depending on the resin content of the mix)
- May be vibrated to fill voids in forms
- Allows use of regular form-release agents (in some applications)
- Product hard to manipulate with conventional tools such as drills and presses due to its density. Recommend getting pre-modified product from the manufacturer
- Small boxes are more costly when compared to its precast counterpart however pre cast concretes induction of stacking or steel covers quickly bridge the gap.