Civil engineers at MIT are currently exploring ways to create concrete with reduced creep that will be able to last for 16,000 years. Concrete is one of the most frequently used and widely produced man-made building materials on earth, with over 20 billion tons produced per year globally. The use of new ultra high density concrete will have enormous environmental implications, given its ability to deliver lighter, stronger structures capable of lasting many civilizations, while drastically decreasing the carbon emissions sent into the atmosphere by its inferior predecessor.

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One of the researchers behind the new discovery, Franz-Josef Ulm offers, “More durable concrete means that less building material and less frequent renovations will be required.” Ulm, alongside Matthieu Vandamme, has identified the cause of creep (the time-dependent deformation of structural concrete).  This discovery may lead to the development of longer lasting concrete, by increasing its density and slowing its creep by a rate of 2.6.

“The thinner the structure, the more sensitive it is to creep, so up until now, we have been unable to build large-scale lightweight, durable concrete structures,” said Ulm. “With this new understanding of concrete, we could produce filigree: light, elegant, strong structures that will require far less material.”

With regard to environmental impact, the annual worldwide production of concrete creates between 5 and 10% of all atmospheric CO2. Ulm explains, “If concrete were to be produced with the same amount of initial material to be seven times normal strength, we could reduce the environmental impact by 1/7. Maybe we can use nanoengineering to create such a green high-performance concrete.”

Ultra high density concrete could deliver exponential results both in terms of strength and durability, and is undoubtedly poised to redefine architects’ relationship with man’s most reliable building material while literally changing the face of the earth.


Lead photo by Jeff Kubina