Scholarship to Investigate Environmentally Friendly Cement

University of Melbourne research investigating the building blocks of new environmentally friendly cement, believed to be the future of Engineering, has been strengthened with a Fulbright scholarship.

Mr John Provis, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, will soon travel to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) on a Fulbright scholarship to continue his research into the fundamentals behind geopolymer technology.

Mr Provis says that one of the areas where geopolymers – environmentally friendly cement-like alumino-silicate materials – are becoming increasingly used is as a replacement for the more traditional Portland cement. Currently a student in the research group of Professor Jannie van Deventer, Dean of Engineering and a pioneer in both scientific and commercial aspects of geopolymer technology, Mr Provis also hopes to use his Fulbright scholarship to promote scientific and educational exchange between Australia and the USA.

Geopolymers offer a number of special properties such as high durability, fire proofing and acid resistance. For example, Mr Provis says that geopolymeric cement has superior acid and sulphate resistance and faster strength development than Portland cement.

“More importantly, geopolymeric cement is far more environmentally friendly. About one tonne of carbon dioxide is produced for every tonne of Portland cement, whereas only 0.2 tonne is produced per tonne of geopolymeric cement.”

“Production of geopolymeric cement also requires about 60% less energy than traditional cement production,” he says.

Despite the wide range of applications and potential value of geopolymer technology, the detailed and complex microstructure of geopolymeric products is only now being fully characterised.

Mr. Provis says, “Current research is based on a number of assumptions about the microstructure of geopolymers and the mechanisms behind their formation. Because of this, existing theories are unable to explain a number of trends that have been widely observed in experimental investigations.”

In his research, Mr Provis is going back to the basics of geopolymer technology. He is working on formulating the first mathematical model of geopolymers and the reaction processes leading to their creation.

Professor Van Deventer says, "The commercialisation of geopolymers has been hampered by a lack of fundamental understanding of the underlying mechanisms, so the work of John Provis will build confidence in this technology at an international level.”

The Fulbright scholarship will enable Mr Provis, who is completing the study for his PhD research, to travel to the world-class facilities at UIUC where he will have access to a range of state of the art microscopy, x-ray and synchrotron radiation diffraction analysis instrumentation and expert personnel in solid microstructure characterisation.

“This project provides a potential framework for tailoring of specific properties of geopolymers to desired applications, which is key to their widespread use in the everyday environment,” he says.

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