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ISU researchers find sweet cement substitute

POCATELLO, Idaho (KIFI) - Idaho State University researchers have found a kind of sugar to make concrete that is better for the environment.

We might not realize it, but we are surrounded by concrete.

"Concrete is one of the most consumed materials in the world,” ISU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering associate professor Mustafa Mashal said. “In fact, it's the most consumed after water. So, any projects that you see around in the building environment from a sidewalk to street, to airports to bridges, to buildings. That all is considerable amount of concrete."

Cement is one of the key ingredients in concrete. It's what binds the material together, but creating cement actually takes a toll on the environment. Making it accounts for about 8% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions.

Researchers in ISU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering have found a surprising ingredient to replace some of the cement in concrete. It's called precipitated calcium carbonate—or PCC. It's a waste product made when sugar beets are processed into fine sugar. PCC has been found to maintain the concrete's strength, similar to regular concrete.

"We wanted to explore this material to see if this material would be of any use in concrete,” Mashal said. “So, we made a lot of concrete samples with different ingredients and different portions of cement as well as PCC. And we found out that in fact, up to 30% of cement in concrete can be replaced with PCC.”

There are more tests that need to be done with this new material. Like checking its durability and how well it handles extreme high and low temperatures. PCC could be the new replacement of cement.

"I think it's always easy for us to just resort to traditional way of doing business or building concrete,” Mashal said. “However, we need to look at the future. We need to reduce not only the cement consumption, but also think about the environmental impacts of it. And for that one, I think it's part of engineering discipline ethics that we look into new and innovative ways to provide sustainability in our projects."

Only time will tell if this goes mainstream one day. More information about the project can be found here.

Article Topic Follows: ISU

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Noah Farley

Noah is a reporter for Local News 8.


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