Innovation Pioneers Score World First for Sustainable Construction With “Game-Changing” Graphene-Enhanced Concrete

Laying Engineered Graphene Concrete

Team from The University of Manchester and Nationwide Engineering laying the world’s first engineered graphene concrete in a commercial setting, just a couple of miles east of the ancient monument of Stonehenge, the new Southern Quarter gym in Amesbury’s Solstice Park. Credit: The University of Manchester/Nationwide Engineering

First commercial pour of engineered graphene concrete takes place in UK using Manchester technology.

A joint venture between graphene specialists at The University of Manchester and alumni-led construction firm Nationwide Engineering has developed a product that could revolutionize the concrete industry and its impact on the environment.

In a world-first for the sector, the team has laid the floor slab of a new gym in Amesbury, Wiltshire with graphene-enhanced ‘Concretene’, removing 30% of material and all steel reinforcement. Depending on the size of onward projects, Nationwide Engineering estimates a 10-20% saving to its customers.

What’s concrete’s problem?

Production of cement for concrete in the building industry is one of the leading causes of global carbon dioxide emissions. Remarkably, if concrete were a country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world behind only China and the US, producing around 8% of global CO2 emissions.

The addition of tiny amounts of graphene — a so-called ‘2D material’ made of a single layer of carbon atoms — strengthens Concretene by around 30% compared to standard RC30 concrete, meaning significantly less is needed to achieve the equivalent structural performance.

“We are thrilled to have developed and constructed this game-changing, graphene-enhanced concrete on a real project,” said Alex McDermott, co-founder and managing director of Nationwide Engineering, who is also a civil engineering graduate from Manchester. “Together with our partners at The University of Manchester’s Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre and structural engineers HBPW Consulting, we are rapidly evolving our knowledge and experience and are positioned for wider industry deployment through our construction frameworks, becoming the go-to company for graphene-enhanced concrete.”

What could this mean for the building industry?

Nationwide Engineering has three existing five-year construction frameworks with Network Rail and two seven-year Government Crown commercial building frameworks. With Network Rail committing to an 11% reduction in CO2 emissions over the next four years, graphene-enhanced concrete shows significant potential to help meet this target.

For example, the HS2 high-speed rail project is expected to use 19.7 million tonnes of concrete, creating around 5 million tonnes of CO2 (around 1.4% of UK annual CO2 emissions). And that’s just in concrete production, before you add in the hundreds of thousands of train and lorry journeys needed to transport the material to site.

While there is still distance to travel between a low-risk floor slab and the performance requirements of high-speed rail, a 30% reduction in material across a range of engineering applications would make a significant difference to environmental impact and costs in the construction industry.

Rolled out across the global building industry supply chain, the technology has the potential to shave 2% off worldwide emissions.

How does graphene-enhanced concrete work?

Liquid concrete sets into its solid form through chemical reactions known as hydration and gelation, where the water and cement in the mixture react to form a paste that dries and hardens over time.

Graphene makes a difference by acting as a mechanical support and as a catalyst surface for the initial hydration reaction, leading to better bonding at microscopic scale and giving the finished product improved strength, durability and corrosion resistance.

Crucially, Concretene can be used just like standard concrete, meaning no new equipment or training is needed in the batching or laying process, and cost-savings can be passed directly to the client.

Dr. Craig Dawson, Application Manager at the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre, explained further: “We have produced a graphene-based additive mixture that is non-disruptive at the point of use. That means we can dose our additive directly at the batching plant where the concrete is being produced as part of their existing system, so there’s no change to production or to the construction guys laying the floor.

“We have been able to do this via thorough investigation — alongside our University colleagues from the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering — of the materials we are using and we can tailor this approach to use any supplier’s graphene, so we are not beholden to a single supplier,” he added. “This makes Concretene a more viable proposition as there is increased security of supply.”

At Amesbury, an initial pour of 234m2 (2,519 ft²) of Concretene was conducted on site on May 6, with a further 495m2 (5,328 ft²)laid on May 25 to complete the concrete floor slab. The graphene used for the pour on May 25 was supplied by Versarien plc.

Nationwide Engineering will manage and monitor the site during its fit-out and onward operation, effectively making the Southern Quarter gym — itself a carbon-neutral proposition — a ‘living laboratory’ to measure and evaluate the performance of the material.

The project has been funded by Nationwide Engineering, Innovate UK and the European Regional Development Fund’s Bridging the Gap program as a joint venture with The University of Manchester’s Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC) and Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering (MACE).

Advanced materials is one of The University of Manchester’s research beacons — examples of pioneering discoveries, interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-sector partnerships that are tackling some of the biggest questions facing the planet.

5 Comments on "Innovation Pioneers Score World First for Sustainable Construction With “Game-Changing” Graphene-Enhanced Concrete"

  1. William Readling | June 7, 2021 at 5:10 am | Reply

    The most important part of this development is the elimination of steel reinforcement. Corroding steel is the primary cause of concrete failure, particularly in, or near seawater. The rusting steel breaks apart the concrete is is supposed to reinforce. Rather than last for hundreds, or even thousands of years, like Roman concrete structures, often steel reinforced concrete must be demolished at great expense after decades.

    • Thanks for the info. I immediately began wondering about the impact of eliminating steel reinforcement after reading this article.

  2. Tom Goddu, Blazing Pencils LLC | June 8, 2021 at 6:35 pm | Reply

    Road surfaces. Road beds. Overpasses. Bridges. Degrees of flexibility will become common. It will polish up nicely. Gym floors, roller rink floors, workplace floors will feel ‘sprung’. G-crete will be impervious to freeze/thaw. 3D printing of housing & buildings will be faster, lighter, cheaper without rebar!

  3. Would you please confirm that the British company Versarien (VRS) supplied the graphene used in this revolutionary advance in building materials. I was surprised not to have seen any reference to this gem of British technology in your article.

  4. Is this blend conductive? There’s been a few people looking to use it for snow & ice removal and heated floors without pipes.

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