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Sweet Swap for Portland Cement?

Thursday, January 7, 2016

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A team of Spanish and Brazilian researchers says it has developed a more environmentally friendly version of concrete.

The laboratory development involves replacing a portion of Portland cement with sugar cane straw ash, a crop residue, the researchers from the Universitat Politècnica de València (Polytechnic University of Valencia, UPV) and San Paolo State University (Unesp) announced in a recent release.

Brazil harvests about 650 million tons of sugar cane each year, according to Jordi Payá, researcher at the Institute of Science and Concrete Technology at the Polytechnic University of Valencia.

Sugar cane

Sugar cane straw typically remains in the field or is burned after harvesting. The team has developed a concrete by substituting sugar cane ash for Portland cement.

Payá estimates that between 15 and 20 percent by weight corresponds to cane straw, waste material which remains in the field or is burned.

“The harvester strips the cane and the rest is considered residue, which is the starting material with which we are working, getting very positive preliminary results,” said Payá.

Research Details

So far, the team reports it has been able to obtain concrete with 30 percent less Portland cement, substituting it with ashes obtained from burning the sugar cane straw, according to’s report on the research.

“The cement itself is the most expensive and most polluting ingredient of concrete, which makes the benefits [of this new method] as much economic as environmental," said Payá. "We are also making use of a by-product that is currently unexploited, with all the benefits that this entails.”

Environmental concerns regarding cement manufacturing include carbon dioxide and other gas emissions as well as high energy use.

In order to burn the sugar cane straw, the researchers report that they have designed a bespoke combustion burner that must be operated using strict guidelines.

Payá adds, “Through this process we obtain ashes that are very reactive to the cement, a quality that is very important to the mechanical performance of the resulting concrete, to its resistance to compression, for instance.”

The international research team is focusing efforts on the “microstructural analysis” in order to determine the behavior of the final product. Further research involves studying the durability and reinforced concrete mass.

Additionally, the team is studying bamboo leaf as a further substitution for Portland cement.

The researchers did not immediately respond Wednesday (Jan. 6) to a request for more information.


Tagged categories: Building materials; Cement; Concrete; Environmental Protection; Environmentally friendly; Europe; Good Technical Practice; Latin America; Research and development

Comment from Monica Chauviere, (1/7/2016, 9:40 AM)

Not that this is necessarily a bad idea, nor am I a farming expert, but it seems no one has looked at the other side of the coin here. The sugar cane remains that are left in the field and burned (or allowed to decay) contribute certain nutrients which help defray the need/cost to fertilize in order to have a healthy and disease-resistant crop. I'd like to see the research from the farming side to understand whether the removal of these nutrients will negatively impact the farmers and the land.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (1/8/2016, 8:55 AM)

Seems rather silly when they could be using the long-proven technology of fly ash (which improves the quality of the concrete when used properly) - Brazil has a half dozen coal fired power plants. Brazil currently has an excess of fly ash which is dumped as waste.

Comment from John Fauth, (1/8/2016, 9:23 AM)

It is politically expedient and acceptable to favor a "green" renewable resource over anything related to coal, regardless of the actual environmental impact. That's how we end up with inefficient ethanol in our gasoline. Feel good politics.

Comment from Andrew Piedl, (1/11/2016, 8:11 AM)

That's not green, just another way to figure out something to do with all the excess corn from the subsidized agri-complex. Just don't talk about it in Iowa...

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