Sustainability of cement and concrete is being discussed in Davos

sm_davosAlmost none of the inhabitants of this Swiss mountain village of Davos noticed that for some days they had the privilege to host more than half of what a participant called “the brains that today work with cement and concrete in the world”. This event entitled “Advances of cement and concretes: sustainability” took place from July 3-7, for the tenth time, in this village that is also host of the World Economic Forum.

In a very relaxed and informal manner, the conference analyzed a wide spectrum of the problems related to the production and use of cement. From the development and implementation of alternatives for Portland cement, such as the case of the so called “geo-polymers”, through aspects of durability of structures and buildings built with concrete, use of cement and concrete in special applications such as the isolation of nuclear waste and recycling of urban waste in a environmentally friendly manner, to the production and use of concretes with very small amounts of Portland cement.

davos_002_fernando_martirenMore than hundred persons participated in the multiple work sessions, held in the famous Congress Center of Davos, and which prompted productive debates on the themes and topics presented. Well-planed social events fostered more intense contact among the participants, and, of course, they converted into extensions of the technical debates.

The conference made clear that there is still a long way ahead in terms of guaranteeing the sustainability of cement and concrete in modern society. This course passes through the search for alternatives to diminish the CO2 emissions related to worldwide cement production, which represents 5% of the total CO2 emission, as well as the search for longer lasting construction elements that in a way could amortize the high initial energy consumption through longer performance, and also by looking for ways to make today’s Portland cement production more sustainable, for example by recycling waste. Tools already exist that permit in a practical manner -although yet with certain limitations- to compare solutions based on sustainability, thinking above all of the ecological aspect.

It was most interesting to see that leaders in investigation and development from the large and most important cement producers worldwide participated in the conference. Their presentations demonstrated that the industry is searching for practical solutions that in a few years could change conditions in the use and production of cement, to make it in a more sustainable manner. Many of the large investigation centers that work on these themes presented their results, some of them including a vision that sees a possibility of a future without cement, where new materials, among theme the so-called “biomaterials”, could substitute cement.

An example of these directions was the presentation of Dr. Kurt Rhyner about the use of EcoMaterials in construction projects in developing countries. With amazement in some cases, and disbelief in others, the participants listened to the presentation. The discussion was about the role cement plays in construction in development countries, and in ways that this material could contribute towards a harmonic and sustainable development.

f_martirena_consultoriaDr. Fernando Martirena´s presentation titled “ Cement and concrete in low cost housing projects in third world countries: are these sustainable materials?” took place during the closing session of the event, and complemented the information provided by Rhyner with facts and information about the work CIDEM and EcoSur have done in development and implementation of EcoMaterials over the past 15 years. Participants showed great interest as they were exposed to small-scale production of concretes of high quality and, that with very small amounts of cement, can be used in a massive way in developing countries. The information poster presented by Martirena was selected as one of the best of the event.

The ample participation of EcoSur in this conference, realized thanks to the coordination and interest of the Materials Laboratory of Swiss Federal Technical University of Lausanne (EPFL), represents the formal integration of this institution in the “small and elite club” of persons who dedicate themselves to development and use of cement worldwide. The impact of this remains to be seen, but it is possible that in the future we will talk of “before and after Davos”

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