A new construction material engineered for sustainability made its debut on May 25 a few miles east of Stonehenge at the new Southern Quarter gym in Amesbury’s Solstice Park. Graphene concrete is 30% stronger than standard concrete, so significantly less material is needed.

The innovation team responsible for the breakthrough is a joint venture between construction firm Nationwide Engineering and the University of Manchester.

The team set out to significantly reduce CO2 emissions in construction. Production of cement — an ingredient in concrete — is a leading cause of global carbon dioxide emissions and represents about 8% of global CO2 emissions.

A team from the University of Manchester and Nationwide Engineering is 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. Source: The University of Manchester/Nationwide EngineeringA team from the University of Manchester and Nationwide Engineering is 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. Source: The University of Manchester/Nationwide Engineering

The new product, Concretene, is strengthened with tiny amounts of graphene, a 2D material made of a single layer of carbon atoms, reducing the cost and the carbon footprint without reducing structural performance. Due to the added strength, less steel reinforcement is needed as well.

Concretene will cost 5% more than standard RC30 concrete but Nationwide Engineering estimates an overall savings of 10% to 20% due to material reduction.

“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," said Alex McDermott, co-founder and managing director of Nationwide Engineering.

Graphene-enhanced concrete has demonstrated significant potential for reducing CO2 emissions. Nationwide Engineering is working with Network Rail and Government Crown on several projects with a commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by 11% over the next four years.

The graphene functions as a mechanical support and a catalyst surface for the initial hydration reaction that is part of concrete production. Better bonding at microscopic scale results in improved strength, durability and corrosion resistance in the finished product.

Concretene requires no new equipment or training in the batching or laying process. A graphene-based additive mixture is dosed directly at the batching plant with no change to production, said Dr. Craig Dawson, application manager at the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre. "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."

Nationwide Engineering will manage and monitor the site during its fit-out and onward operation, effectively creating a 'living laboratory' at Southern Quarter to measure and evaluate the performance of the material. Southern Quarter is owned and run by military veterans and due to open in summer 2021.

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