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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/R001642/1
Title: Multi-scale engineering of alkali-activated concretes for sustainable infrastructure
Principal Investigator: Bernal Lopez, Professor S
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Banah UK Ltd Empa (Swiss Fed Labs of Mat Sci Tech) ETH Zurich
Imperial College London Institute of Building Materials Research University of Texas at Austin
Zeobond Pty Ltd
Department: Civil Engineering
Organisation: University of Leeds
Scheme: EPSRC Fellowship
Starts: 29 June 2018 Ends: 28 June 2024 Value (£): 1,280,268
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Civil Engineering Materials
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
30 Jan 2018 Eng Fellowship Interviews Jan 2018 Announced
06 Jun 2017 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 6 and 7 June 2017 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Infrastructure is the foundation of the society and economy of every nation, and enables us to enjoy a high standard of living. Currently 3.5bn people live in urban areas, and this will continue to rise, particularly in developing countries, reaching 6.2bn people by 2050. The provision of infrastructure and housing poses great challenges to be resolved in the coming years, but also offers a unique opportunity to drive significant global change, with the development of cities and the improvement of living standards to eliminate poverty and promote social inclusion being essential for global economic growth.

The enormous amount of resources necessary to fulfil the world's infrastructure requirements, and the urgent need to mitigate climate change, mean that it is essential to move from traditional ways of providing infrastructure (which involve the use of cement, steel and other resources, and emit large volumes of CO2), to more sustainable ways. This will safeguard our future global society. The worldwide demand for Portland cement (a key component of concrete) has doubled in the past 10 years, to more than 4 billion tonnes per year, and this will continue to rise in the coming decades. This accounts for 8% of all worldwide CO2 emissions, and this could increase to as much as 25% by 2050. There is an urgent need for the UK, and the international community, to take up low-carbon best practices as we design and build infrastructure, so that significant reductions in carbon emissions can be achieved rapidly, and a shift towards a low-energy sustainable construction industry occurs.

This Early Career Fellowship research focuses on the design, characterisation and assessment of one of the most promising low-carbon candidates that can be used in place of Portland cement, to produce sustainable and durable concretes. These materials, called alkali-activated cements, can offer carbon emissions savings of 40-80% compared to Portland cement, when used to make a concrete with similar or better performance. However, despite this potential, the performance of alkali-activated materials in the field is unproven, and the processes that are now used for their production also face challenges that need to be resolved for the future-proofing of this technology. So, further research is urgently required to prove that these materials can be produced by sustainable processes using highly available resources, and then serve well under challenging conditions, over periods of decades or more. This particularly means that we must understand the ability of potentially damaging chemical species to move through alkali-activated cements (either through the material itself, or through any cracks which may form as the material shrinks or is damaged). This lies at the heart of the understanding of concrete durability, and requires the development of advanced modelling tools to predict the long-term performance of concretes that are made from these new cements, moving beyond the timescales that can be accessed in the laboratory to describe real-world performance.

The central aim of this Fellowship research is to provide the scientific basis for the use of the UK's natural resources, as well as by-products from other industries such as the production and processing of metals, to produce high-performance, high-durability alkali-activated concretes using conventional and/or novel processes. To achieve this, the Fellowship applicant and her team will use state of the art materials characterisation techniques to make connections between the way alkali-activated cements are produced, and their performance - moving the understanding 'from atoms to applications'. This will open a new pathway to building sustainable infrastructure for the future of the UK and worldwide, further strengthening the nation's current world-leading position in developing and using innovative cements, and opening opportunities for international connections and impact.

Key Findings
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Organisation Website: http://www.leeds.ac.uk