How to light up kilometers of road network without access to electricity: that was the question that set Mexican scientist José Carlos Rubio on the path to discovery.
His research work has resulted in a finding that will alter how we live the world in the dark: a luminescent cement that could illuminate roads during the hours without light.
The finding could revolutionize the concrete industry, one of the most widely used materials worldwide with an estimated consumption of 4 billion tones in 2016 alone. Some of the possible applications of this new cement include improving visibility by lighting up streets, façades, or remote off-grid road networks or installations.
Cement and opacity: let the light in
The new cement composite essentially combines traditional cement with photo-reactive elements, but Dr Rubio faced an almost insurmountable initial obstacle: cement is an opaque material.
The research team, which has worked for more than nine years on this project, decided that modifying cement’s microstructure was one of the possible routes towards obtaining this phosphorescence.
The mixing of water and cement produces a crystalline byproduct that the team realized is unnecessary. In order to prevent that reaction, the team inserted an additive which resulted in a geo-polymeric cement able to absorb certain amounts of solar energy and re-emit it later.
That way, the material can ‘charge up’ during 12 hours then light up for another 12 hours. The luminescent additive lends the material its blue and green coloring, although the researchers are developing other prototypes with different hues.
According to Rubio, the cement’s luminescence can last for about a hundred years since it is an inorganic material, much longer than that of synthetic polymers or organic resins currently in the market.
Rubio and his team, part of the Universidad de Michoacán San Nicolás Hidalgo, have been nominated to Mexico’s Science Awards in 2016, and expect to be able to start commercializing the product after attracting widespread interest from governments and companies.
Shotcrete & the underground world: a range of possibilities?
Cement is one of the main ingredients of concrete, which is used daily in the construction of all type of structures.
This innovation dramatically increases its potential field of applications, including some that defy the imagination: its use outdoors in roads and highways, as well as its use in property development, schools or even swimming pools.
Although experts warn that the inherent resistance of this type of cement would be compromised by the changes to its micro-structure, we can’t help but wonder: would it be possible to use it as a final layer for tunnel construction and underground mining?
Despite all the research that remains to be done, the range of possibilities it opens up is immense. In mining, for instance: would it be possible one day to work off grid and light up tunnels and galleries with the accumulated solar energy gathered outdoors?
What other potential applications do you think this could open up for the underground mining and tunnel construction industry? Leave your comments in the section below.
- Scientific American, “Glow-Hard: Luminous Cement Could Light Roads, Structures”, Berta Carreño, Last accessed 02/08/2016
- Phys.org, “Looking to light highways with light-emitting cement”, Last accessed 02/08/2016
- Agencia Informativa del Congreso Nacional de Ciencia & Tecnología (Conacyt), “Crean cemento emisor de luz para la construcción”, Last accessed 02/08/2016
- CNN, “Glow-In-The-Dark Cement Could Revolutionize How We Light Cities”, Sophie Morlin-Yron, Last accessed 02/08/2016
- “2016 World Cement Demand Forecast Down as China Slows Down”, Last accessed 09/08/2016