Since we were children our parents told us over and over again to eat our vegetables. Why? Because they help us grow big and strong.

Now there are people who think that we might be able to apply that same logic to buildings and concrete!

How? Let’s explain.

Researchers from Britain’s Lancaster University have teamed up with Cellucomp, a dynamic material company, to research how ‘nanoplatelets’ taken from root vegetables can make concrete stronger and also help the environment.

Nanoplatelets are basically small structures made of a layer of stiff fibres, which can be made of plant cellulose, as in this case. The nanoplatelets are taken from carrots and sugar beets discarded from supermarkets, or from leftover waste from food-processing factories.

It was found that the vegetable-composite concretes were stronger than all commercially available cement additives, such as graphene and carbon nanotubes, and at a much lower cost.

The root vegetable nanoplatelets make the concrete stronger by increasing the amount of calcium silicate hydrate and preventing cracks from appearing in the concrete. The concrete was also found to have a denser microstructure, making it resistant to erosion.

Stronger concrete means we can use smaller quantities during construction which in turn will reduce carbon emissions, something which the construction industry has been urgently seeking for a long time. The production of ordinary Portland cement, one of the main ingredients for concrete, produces a lot of carbon, accounting for 8% of total global CO2 emissions.

Proof of concept studies show that adding the root vegetable nanoplatelets resulted in a saving of 40kg of Portland cement per cubic metre of concrete – which in turn saves 40 kg of CO2 for the same volume.

Professor Mohamed Saafi, lead researcher for this study, strongly believes that root vegetable concrete could go a long way to reducing construction carbon emissions.

He said, “The composites are not only superior to current cement products in terms of mechanical and microstructure properties, but also use smaller amounts of cement. This significantly reduces both the energy consumption and CO2 emissions associated with cement manufacturing.”

The scientists are also looking into creating thin nanoplatelet-based sheets, which would be applied to the outside of existing buildings made from traditional concrete. These sheets could theoretically increase the lifespan of these structures thanks to their additional strength.

The research project will look into the science behind the results of the proof-of-concept studies to get a better understanding of how the vegetable nanoplatelets enhance the concrete mix. The researchers also want to optimise the concrete performance to help produce a better mixture which can be used in the construction industry.

Using vegetables in concrete. What will they think of next?

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