In the US, approximately one in five kilometers of highways and main roads is in poor condition. It’s an even worse problem in colder states, where moisture and, above all, salt accelerate the deterioration of pavement and asphalt. A team of researchers from believes nanomaterials like graphene oxide can help strengthen concrete infrastructure against the elements.
Many state departments of transportation use topical sealants to protect bridges and other concrete structures from melting snow, rain and salt. These products can help, but as is often the case with moisture, it’s a losing battle. What the WSU team found was that they could add nanomaterials – specifically – to a commercial silicone-based sealant to make the microstructure of the concrete more dense, thus making it difficult for water to enter the material. The cement also helped protect their samples from the physical and chemical abuse inflicted by the de-icing salts.
Comparing their sealant to a commercial one, they found it was 75% better at repelling water and 44% better at reducing salt damage. They also made it from water instead of an organic solvent. This means that the final product is safer to use and less harmful to the environment. Typically, water-based sealants don’t work as well as organic ones, but the nanomaterials used by the WSU team helped to even out the performance gap.
“Concrete, although it looks like solid rock, is basically a sponge when you look at it under a microscope,” said Professor Xianming Shi, lead researcher on the project. “It is a highly porous, non-homogeneous composite material.” According to Shi, if you can keep the material dry, most durability issues go away.
Compared to most research projects involving the use of , this one seems to have a chance of getting out of the lab. Sometime in the next two years, Professor Shi’s team plans to work with the university or the city of Pullman to test the sealant in the real world.
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