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What are Concrete and Cement Made Of?

Concrete is everywhere you look, from high rise buildings to the very roads we drive on. It is the foundations of our homes, walls and shopping centres, it has allowed us to build taller and stronger structures than we ever imagined possible, and has helped structure the cities in which we live.
Without cement, the world would be a very different place. We would be limited with both the size and scale of buildings as they would not stand as strong and proud  as they do today. So what exactly is concrete? And how is it made?

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Cement is actually a very basic ingredient that has been utilised for centuries, its roots can be traced back as far as the ancient Egyptians where it was used to add strength to structures and tombs. Nowadays, cement is ready made and many types now only require water to be added when mixing and can set in as little as 10 minutes.

Made from a mix of minerals such as limestone, chalk, calcium, clay, silicon and iron ore, these are ground into a fine powder which forms a paste when mixed with water. It is the past that becomes cement, it dries hard as the water evaporates, leaving a strong and unmoving bond between the cement and whatever it is placed on. 

It is easy to assume that cement and concrete of one one of the same thing, however, concrete is created when the addition of sand or gravel is added to the cement mix to create a solid and firm building material. Without the addition of sand or gravel, cement can become brittle and crack easily which is why aggregates such as sand are added to help prevent it being brittle. On the flip side, if you only tried to build with sand or gravel, you would be left  with a paste that is crumbly and has no bonding properties.

In theory, concrete does not need many of the modern day minerals that it uses today. In the past, a mix of animal dung, straw and mud were used to create a paste that would provide bonding and waterproofing for structures, and this is still a true concrete, just not as we know it. As time moved forwards the introduction of longer lasting concrete came to light and nowadays there are hundreds of variations to choose from, from coloured cement, cement with additives such as anti-fungal, anti-mould and waterproofing agents, light cement, indoor and exterior cement and self-curing  cement.

While the modern day advances with cement and concrete have enabled us to build in ways that would have been impossible just a century ago, both of them still offer the same properties as the most basic of mixes from almost 4000 years ago. The only differences are the length of time that the cement and concrete can hold up against the elements and the types of materials used in the creation of them.

One thing is for sure though, and that is that without cement many of us would be living in single story properties, roads would not be able to support the weight of the vehicles travelling on them and many of the amazing structures that surround us would not be standing. It has helped us shape the world we live in.

 

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