Researchers create self-cleaning concrete that keeps buildings look new

A microscope image of the PDMS-lined pores within the superhydrophobic concrete.

The creation of a new type of self-cleaning concrete

Concrete is one of the world’s most important building materials. However, it is also prone to environmental damage. Therefore, concrete structures could get dirty easily over time. In fact, it is a chore to clean them from time to time. However, such hassles may soon no longer be necessary with the creation of the new self-cleaning concrete.

A group of scientists from China has created a new type of concrete that claims to be self-cleaning using a relatively simple method.

Self-cleaning’ concrete could keep buildings looking like new by repelling all sorts of liquids.

Features of the self-cleaning concrete

The concrete that they invented is allegedly super hydrophobic, which literally means non-water-absorbent. Most liquids would just bounce off its surface, thus avoiding the liquids from forming stains. Moreover, it also allows dust and dirt to flow away together with the repelled fluids.

The research team from the University of Science and Technology of China, which is led by Xin Xu also revealed that the material is strong, soundproof, and possesses good heat insulation. The researchers, led by Xin Xu got the inspiration for the self-cleaning concrete from nature. There are many examples of self-cleaning surfaces in nature. For example, lotus leaves to geckos’ feet are all water-proof.

The super hydrophobic concrete repels liquids such as dyed water, coffee, soy sauce, beer, and milk, as well as dust particles and not leave any stains behind. Besides that, the porous concrete also absorbs sounds and is insulated against heat loss, which are two other attractive properties for building materials.

Moreover, they claimed that the concrete maintained its hydrophobicity even after chemical exposure, heat treatment, and mechanical grinding.

The material also repels liquids like dyed water, coffee, soy sauce, beer, and milk, as well as dust particles.

Differences between Xin Xu’s hydrophobic concrete with the existing water-proof concrete

Despite hydrophobic cement and concrete are becoming common, researchers around the world are constantly working on improving their capabilities and reducing their prices.

Previous attempts at adding hydrophobic materials to concrete, though, have not been entirely successful. According to Xu and his research team, they found that most problems associated with existing hydrophobic cement is related to the use of surface coating. It can wear off over time. Apart from that, the strength of the concrete will drop during mixing into wet concrete.

However, the Chinese research team managed to come up with a simple alternative. They started by combining wet concrete with an emulsifier, an oil, as well as polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) – a hydrophobic silicone polymer. The oil, helped by the emulsifier, formed many small droplets containing PDMS.

The oil evaporated when the concrete became dry. It leaves the PDMS-coated pores behind throughout the concrete matrix. The final result is the creation of porous concrete that is light but strong.

By nano casting technology, the complement of the original lotus leaf structure is transferred to the soft and deformable PDMS material.

Possible applications of the new hydrophobic concrete

The hydrophobic concrete has huge potential in different industries.

It could save immense time and labor in homes and businesses, as well as reduce disease risk in settings such as hospitals. The application of  the hydrophobic concrete on bacteria-resistant surfaces in settings such as hospitals is also possible.

Their paper has been published in the ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces journal.

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