Earthmoving News, Environment & Research

Smart 3D printed concrete

Melbourne universities have been researching the use of graphene oxide to strengthen 3D printed concrete and enable the monitoring of cracks

Engineers have added graphene oxide to cement mixture to make stronger 3D printed concrete that is easier to print, paving the way to create potential ‘smart’ walls that can monitor cracks, the university has announced.

The research, conducted by RMIT University and University of Melbourne, is the first to investigate the effects of graphene oxide on the printability and compressive properties of 3D printed concrete.

They found the addition of graphene oxide, a nanomaterial commonly used in batteries and electronic gadgets, gave concrete electrical conductivity and increased the strength of concrete by up to 10 per cent.

Research supervisor and RMIT associate professor Jonathan Tran said this concrete had the potential to create ‘smart’ buildings where walls can act as sensors to detect and monitor small cracks.

While current detection methods, such as ultrasonic or acoustic sensors, are non-destructive and widely used in the construction industry to detect large cracks in concrete structures, detecting smaller cracks early is still a challenge.

“The equipment for these methods is often bulky, making it difficult to regularly use for monitoring very large structures like bridges or tall buildings,” says Tran, from RMIT’s School of Engineering.

“But the addition of graphene oxide creates the possibility of an electrical circuit in concrete structures, which could help detect structural issues, changes in temperature and other environmental factors.”

While the research was preliminary, Tran said graphene oxide had the potential to make 3D printed concrete more viable in the construction industry, which could have positive impacts on cost and sustainability.

“Current concrete structures are created using formwork, which is where you create a mould before pouring fresh concrete mixture into it,” he says.

“Formwork requires a lot of labour, time and money, and it often creates a lot of waste.

“With 3D printed concrete, not only does it help save time, money and labour, but you can also create more complex structures and reuse some construction waste in cement-based materials.”

As 3D printed concrete uses layer-by-layer printing, it can potentially lead to weaker bonds between each layer, but the addition of graphene oxide in concrete makes it easier to extrude, creating better inter-layer bonding, which can also help maximise strength.

“Graphene oxide has functional groups on its surface, which are like sticky spots on the surface of a material that can grab onto other things,” Tran says.

“These ‘sticky spots’ are mainly made of various functional groups containing oxygen, which play a crucial role in facilitating its stronger bonds with other materials like cement. This strong bonding can improve the overall strength of the concrete.

“However, more research is needed to test if concrete with graphene oxide can match or surpass the strength of traditionally cast concrete.”

The next phase of the research will study the electrical conductivity of graphene oxide in concrete and test its viability as a potential smart material.

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