Sustainability and circularity in the construction industry is a hot-button topic at the moment. Watershed Materials have developed eco-friendly, aesthetically pleasing masonry that uses less cement. At the core of the technology are recycled materials.
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The Problem with Cement
The construction industry is one of the largest sectors in the world, meeting the demands of a growing world population and rapidly urbanizing and industrializing society. However, the industry contributes massively to climate change.
Cement is an extremely costly modern masonry component and has a huge carbon footprint. Current cement production is responsible for around 8% of total global carbon dioxide emissions. These emissions are mostly linked to the thermal combustion and chemical processes involved in its manufacture.
As well as the carbon emissions produced during cement production, there is the problem of embodied carbon, which is the carbon dioxide emissions related to materials and construction processes during a building’s entire life cycle. Raw material extraction, transport, construction practices, and end-of-life material disposal all play a role.
The demand for infrastructure, domestic dwellings, and commercial buildings has increased exponentially in recent decades, especially in developing nations. Raw material use has peaked in recent years, with around four billion tonnes of cement produced annually.
Aside from carbon emissions linked to cement production, the global construction industry is responsible for vast and accelerating resource depletion, with raw materials such as limestone and sand increasingly being utilized in building and infrastructure projects.
To overcome these historical issues and help the construction industry evolve into a sustainable and circular industry, innovative solutions are needed that reduce the amount of cement and other materials in masonry. Many companies and researchers are currently focused on solving these challenges.
Watershed Materials’ Sustainable Cement and Masonry Solutions
Watershed Materials are tackling the environmental and sustainability challenges of the modern construction industry. At the core of the company’s solution is the development of proprietary low-cement mixes that are affordable, resilient, durable, and aesthetically pleasing.
Utilizing Recycled Materials
Conventional concrete uses virgin resources, which are rapidly being depleted and require vast amounts of water and energy to produce, increasing the carbon emissions associated with the manufacture of structural building elements.
The technologies used by Watershed Materials can utilize 100% recycled aggregates from a variety of industrial sources, such as recycled concrete and quarry waste. Different materials can be incorporated to improve the aesthetic appeal of masonry elements.
No colorants or dyes are needed in this process, as the original appearance of recycled aggregates can be leveraged to provide visually pleasing structural masonry. Additionally, VOCs are not produced as the need for surface finishes is circumvented in the process.
Watershed Material’s Proprietary Machinery
The National Science Foundation has provided Watershed Materials with funding to create new machinery to provide mass-produced, sustainable masonry for the construction industry. The machinery produces high-performance concrete blocks.
The high-compression masonry manufacturing equipment developed by the company can provide a total applied compressive force of 500,000 pounds. Faster production is ensured using advanced hydraulics and computer control systems.
The proprietary machine’s compressive force is critical for achieving the production of structural masonry, which incorporates less cement and more locally sourced natural and recycled aggregates. Aggregates need minimal processing, improving the sustainability of the process even further.
The significant force applied to the masonry blocks compacts the aggregates, causing the mineral grains to lithify. This reduces or removes the need for cement in the mixes and produces a man-made material analogous to natural stone. The material can be produced rapidly and to an extremely high standard.
Sustainable masonry products can be produced from naturally-occurring mineral-based geopolymers using Watershed Machinery’s process. Tests performed by the company demonstrated geopolymer mixes with enhanced compressive strength, with over 7,000 psi recorded.
These results are noteworthy as the compressive strength of geopolymer mixes produced using the company’s manufacturing processes is twice that of conventional concrete. Additionally, the resulting mixes contain no cement and do not require aggregates such as slag or fly ash.
Alongside their enhanced compressive strength, geopolymer mixes provided by the company display outstanding resistance to chemical and water corrosion.
Watershed BlockTM is the company’s flagship product, which is available in a variety of colors to create modern, innovative, and high-performance low-cement masonry with a unique regional character and a range of aesthetically pleasing finishes.
Six designs are available from the company. All products are ASTM C90 compliant and provide an innovative and versatile solution to the environmental problems faced by the construction industry today.
A More Sustainable Future for the Construction Industry
The construction industry is a major contributor to climate change. Some of the main problems faced by the sector today are the over-exploitation of virgin resources and the associated energy and water demands in concrete production. Reducing cement content in structural elements is one solution that could reduce the industry’s carbon dioxide emissions.
As demand for new infrastructure and buildings accelerates over the coming decades, innovative approaches such as Watershed Material’s sustainable, low-cement masonry blocks will help to achieve the net zero aims of this key industrial sector.
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References and Further Reading
- Watershed Materials (website) Watershed Materials Develops Technology to Produce Beautiful, Sustainable Masonry with Less Cement Using Recycled Materials.
- Watershed Materials (website) Watershed Block™ Offers Performance, Beauty and Sustainability for Modern Masonry.
- ING (2021) Cement and climate change [online] ing.com. Available at: https://www.ing.com/Newsroom/News/Cement-and-climate-change-.htm