Turning Cement Into Metal

A unique process has been discovered that turns cement into metal, which may have far reaching applications for the electronics industry.

The process, an ingenious combination of several experimental techniques, grants semi-conductive properties to the liquid cement as it is converted into a metallic-glass material.

Previous work had shown that cement can transition to a liquid metal-glass, by a process of ‘electron trapping’. However until now conditions needed for this to occur had not been fully explained, and the process was only seen to occur in ammonia solutions.

Levitation method

The mineral of choice for this research was mayenite, a component of alumina cement made of calcium and aluminum oxides.

The mineral was subjected to carbon dioxide laser beam heating of up to 2000oC in conjunction with an aerodynamic levitator.

The levitation method, specifically developed for in-situ measurement by a team at Argonne's Advanced Photon Source, was required to prevent the liquid from forming crystals against the cooler container surfaces.

The liquid was then cooled to a glass so that electron trapping could occur, by controlling the oxygen bonding using different atmospheres.

It was discovered that electron trapping occurrs due to ‘cage-like’ structures in the glass, hence giving the material more metallic conductive properties.

Beneficial properties

The beneficial properties of this newly formed material are numerous, and include:

  • More corrosion resistant than traditional metal
  • less brittle than traditional glass
  • fluidity for ease of processing and molding
  • conductivity
  • low energy loss in magnetic fields

"This new material has lots of applications including as thin-film resistors used in liquid-crystal displays, basically the flat panel computer monitor that you are probably reading this from at the moment," said Chris Benmore, a physicist from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory

Intercontinental team

The research was led by Benmore and Shinji Kohara from Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute/SPring-8, with an intercontinental team from Japan, Finland and Germany.

Previous ideas from X-ray experiments conducted at Spring 8 were confirmed, combining with previous measurements at the Intense Pulsed Neutron Source and the Advanced Photon Source.

Positive boon

Though it is doubtful that this discovery will lead to any solid gold buildings, it is certainly a positive boon for industries involved in semiconductors, thin films, protective coatings, and computer chips.

Furthermore, this research could pave the way for similar methods using different material. Benmore said, "we can develop and test other materials to find out if we can make them conduct electricity in this way."

Looking to the future, what other materials may be utilized in the same way?

Original source: DOE/Argonne National Laboratory

G.P. Thomas

Written by

G.P. Thomas

Gary graduated from the University of Manchester with a first-class honours degree in Geochemistry and a Masters in Earth Sciences. After working in the Australian mining industry, Gary decided to hang up his geology boots and turn his hand to writing. When he isn't developing topical and informative content, Gary can usually be found playing his beloved guitar, or watching Aston Villa FC snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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