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Global Civil Engineering

What is Concrete?

Concrete, usually Portland cement concrete, is a composite material composed of fine and coarse aggregate bonded together with a fluid cement (cement paste) that hardens over time—most frequently a lime-based cement binder, such as Portland cement, but sometimes with other hydraulic cements, such as a calcium aluminate cement. It is distinguished from other, non-cementitious types of concrete all binding some form of aggregate together, including asphalt concrete with a bitumen binder, which is frequently used for road surfaces, and polymer concretes that use polymers as a binder.

When aggregate is mixed together with dry Portland cement and water, the mixture forms a fluid slurry that is easily poured and molded into shape. The cement reacts chemically with the water and other ingredients to form a hard matrix that binds the materials together into a durable stone-like material that has many uses. Often, additives (such as pozzolans or superplasticizers) are included in the mixture to improve the physical properties of the wet mix or the finished material. Most concrete is poured with reinforcing materials (such as rebar) embedded to provide tensile strength, yielding reinforced concrete.

Famous concrete structures include the Hoover Dam, the Panama Canal and the Roman Pantheon. The earliest large-scale users of concrete technology were the ancient Romans, and concrete was widely used in the Roman Empire. The Colosseum in Rome was built largely of concrete, and the concrete dome of the Pantheon is the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. Today, large concrete structures (for example, dams and multi-story car parks) are usually made with reinforced concrete.

After the Roman Empire collapsed, use of concrete became rare until the technology was redeveloped in the mid-18th century. Worldwide, concrete has overtaken steel in tonnage of material used.

Compression testing of a concrete cylinder
Enter a captioExterior of the Roman Pantheon, finished 128 AD, the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world.[1]n
Interior of the Pantheon dome, seen from beneath. The concrete for the coffered dome was laid on moulds, mounted on temporary scaffolding.

 

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