The newly created Empa "Concrete and Asphalt" lab will start its research activities this coming March. "With an annual demand of over 4.5 billion tonnes, the two building materials together represent the largest proportion of all materials used worldwide," says Pietro Lura, who heads the new research lab. Both products also face common challenges, such as environmentally friendly, resource-efficient production and use combined with reduced CO2 emissions. In order to develop sustainable and cost-effective building materials, Empa researchers are thus working on new cement- and bitumen-based materials, which produce smaller amounts of harmful greenhouse gas – or which can even capture CO2 from the atmosphere. In this way, the news lab, with its activities in the fields of cement chemistry, concrete technology, asphalt and road construction, fits in perfectly with the objectives of Empa's Research Focus Area "Sustainable Built Environment". Moreover, synergies within concrete and asphalt research will be created, as the use of alternative constituents and previously unused secondary raw materials from industrial processing as well as modern recycling technologies will be sought for both materials.
Cement and bitumen, the binding agents, on which concrete and asphalt are based, have been used since ancient times. Today, research is breaking completely new ground in analyzing the chemical properties of these highly complex materials, optimizing the construction materials and providing them with new functionalities. Both fields also rely on the latest methods in various areas, for instance in digitalization (Machine Learning, Big Data), manufacturing technology (Additive Manufacturing) and materials characterization (3D Imaging, AFM, numerical simulation).
"We will implement the principles of circular economy by developing new composite materials and enabling the cross-recycling of asphalt and concrete in a global, constantly growing market," says Lura. In Switzerland the new Empa lab has a unique selling point and is thus highly relevant for decision makers such as the Swiss Federal Roads Office (FEDRO). Cooperations with industrial partners and research institutions at an international level are also already well established.