Cement facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Cement plant 03
A cement plant in Kenmore, Washington.
06 Contes cimenterie
Lafarge cement plant in Contes, (France)

In the most general sense of the word, a cement is a binder, a substance which sets and hardens independently, and can bind other materials together. The word "cement" traces to the Romans, who used the term "opus caementicium" to describe masonry which resembled concrete and was made from crushed rock with burnt lime as binder. The volcanic ash and pulverized brick additives which were added to the burnt lime to obtain a hydraulic binder were later referred to as cementum, cimentum, cäment and cement. Cements used in construction are characterized as hydraulic or non-hydraulic.

The most important use of cement is the production of mortar and concrete—the bonding of natural or artificial aggregates to form a strong building material which is durable in the face of normal environmental effects.

Concrete should not be confused with cement because the term cement refers only to the dry powder substance used to bind the aggregate materials of concrete. Upon the addition of water and/or additives the cement mixture is referred to as concrete, especially if aggregates have been added.

History

Early uses

It is uncertain where it was first discovered that a combination of hydrated non-hydraulic lime and a pozzolan produces a hydraulic mixture (see also: Pozzolanic reaction), but concrete made from such mixtures was first used on a large scale by Roman engineers. They used both natural pozzolans (trass or pumice) and artificial pozzolans (ground brick or pottery) in these concretes. Many excellent examples of structures made from these concretes are still standing, notably the huge monolithic dome of the Pantheon in Rome and the massive Baths of Caracalla. The vast system of Roman aqueducts also made extensive use of hydraulic cement. The use of structural concrete disappeared in medieval Europe, although weak pozzolanic concretes continued to be used as a core fill in stone walls and columns.

Modern cement

Cement Production 2010
Global Cement Production in 2010
Cement Capacity 2010
Global Cement Capacity in 2010

John Smeaton made an important contribution to the development of cements when he was planning the construction of the third Eddystone Lighthouse (1755-9) in the English Channel. He needed a hydraulic mortar that would set and develop some strength in the twelve hour period between successive high tides. He performed an exhaustive market research on the available hydraulic limes, visiting their production sites, and noted that the "hydraulicity" of the lime was directly related to the clay content of the limestone from which it was made. Smeaton was a civil engineer by profession, and took the idea no further. Apparently unaware of Smeaton's work, the same principle was identified by Louis Vicat in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Vicat went on to devise a method of combining chalk and clay into an intimate mixture, and, burning this, produced an "artificial cement" in 1817. James Frost, working in Britain, produced what he called "British cement" in a similar manner around the same time, but did not obtain a patent until 1822. In 1824, Joseph Aspdin patented a similar material, which he called Portland cement, because the render made from it was in color similar to the prestigious Portland stone.

All the above products could not compete with lime/pozzolan concretes because of fast-setting (giving insufficient time for placement) and low early strengths (requiring a delay of many weeks before formwork could be removed). Hydraulic limes, "natural" cements and "artificial" cements all rely upon their belite content for strength development. Belite develops strength slowly. Because they were burned at temperatures below 1250 °C, they contained no alite, which is responsible for early strength in modern cements. The first cement to consistently contain alite was made by Joseph Aspdin's son William in the early 1840s. This was what we call today "modern" Portland cement. Because of the air of mystery with which William Aspdin surrounded his product, others (e.g. Vicat and I C Johnson) have claimed precedence in this invention, but recent analysis of both his concrete and raw cement have shown that William Aspdin's product made at Northfleet, Kent was a true alite-based cement. However, Aspdin's methods were "rule-of-thumb": Vicat is responsible for establishing the chemical basis of these cements, and Johnson established the importance of sintering the mix in the kiln.

William Aspdin's innovation was counter-intuitive for manufacturers of "artificial cements", because they required more lime in the mix (a problem for his father), because they required a much higher kiln temperature (and therefore more fuel) and because the resulting clinker was very hard and rapidly wore down the millstones which were the only available grinding technology of the time. Manufacturing costs were therefore considerably higher, but the product set reasonably slowly and developed strength quickly, thus opening up a market for use in concrete. The use of concrete in construction grew rapidly from 1850 onwards, and was soon the dominant use for cements. Thus Portland cement began its predominant role.

Environmental and social impacts

USMC-110806-M-IX060-148
Cement is often supplied as a powder, which is mixed with other materials and water. Many types of cement powder can cause allergic reactions upon skin contact and are irritating to skin, eyes, and lungs, so handlers should wear a dust mask, goggles, and protective gloves, unlike the worker pictured here

Cement manufacture causes environmental impacts at all stages of the process. These include emissions of airborne pollution in the form of dust, gases, noise and vibration when operating machinery and during blasting in quarries, and damage to countryside from quarrying. Equipment to reduce dust emissions during quarrying and manufacture of cement is widely used, and equipment to trap and separate exhaust gases are coming into increased use. Environmental protection also includes the re-integration of quarries into the countryside after they have been closed down by returning them to nature or re-cultivating them.

Local impacts

Factory of National Cement Share Company
The National Cement Share Company of Ethiopia's new plant in Dire Dawa.

Producing cement has significant positive and negative impacts at a local level. On the positive side, the cement industry may create employment and business opportunities for local people, particularly in remote locations in developing countries where there are few other opportunities for economic development. Negative impacts include disturbance to the landscape, dust and noise, and disruption to local biodiversity from quarrying limestone (the raw material for cement).


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