UK researcher experiments with ways to improve concrete



By Drew Teague

A UK employee is focused on a different kind of “Wall” than what most UK students fixate on.

Tom Robl, associate director of the Center for Applied Energy Research, is looking at ways to improve concrete with his research at UK, and has made progress in making concrete more environmentally friendly.

Robl has been researching the different compounds and materials that make up Portland cement. With this information, he and his fellow researchers are trying to find materials to add to the cement to improve it. One of these things is fly ash, a residue from coal combustion and pozzolan.

“The Portland cement-based concrete is a material that can be made stronger and more durable by adding pozzolan, which is a glassy material that reacts with one of the materials in Portland cement and makes it more carbonate resistant,” Robl said.

By improving the Portland cement, consumers will not only get the concrete at a lower cost, but will get other benefits as well.

“We’re looking at various components of Portland cement and how you can use other materials to make it longer lasting, more energy efficient and environmentally better,” Robl said. “It reduces, for example, carbon emissions, water consumption, the amount of energy for production, by like 31 trillion BTUs.”

Robl said with the use of this concrete, stronger buildings can be created because of the increased hardness with the new materials added.

“You can’t make durable buildings without fly ash,” Robl said. “This is a major use for the fly ash.”

The effect on the university, Robl said, is going to be important because of the innovative research UK is constantly doing.

“The university is a leader in developing new construction materials that are lower in carbon and higher in performance,” he said. “We have been in this role for a long, long time.”

Robl has been working on many types of cement to help improve other qualities such as drying time and making it last longer. He said because Kentucky’s main export is coal, this concrete will benefit the state as well as the university.

“The Commonwealth produces many of these products for add-in in cement,” Robl said. “By using some of the by-products, it’s a base of a major industry. It is important we stay on top of these things and help the industry.”