LowE-CEM: Low-Energy CEMents for sustainable concrete

With support from the Danish Council for Strategic Research, the strategic research project, LowE-CEM, was launched in April 2012. This five-year project, April 1st, 2012 – March 31, 2017, is hosted by iNANO and administrated by Aarhus University.

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Concrete is the worlds most durable, reliable and economical construction material with an annual consumption in volume by society only surpassed by water. Currently, no alternatives for concrete exist which can be supplied at a sufficient scale globally. Cement is the essential “glue” in concrete with an annual world-wide production of about 3 billion tonnes and by the year 2050 experts forecast that this production will increase to above 5 billion tonnes (Figure 1). Cement is made from natural raw materials which are heated to extremely high temperatures (1450 oC) in cement kilns where they chemically transform into the so-called cement clinker. This process is highly energy demanding and in Denmark it accounts for 80 – 90 % of the total energy required for grey cement production which is approx. 4.4 GJ per tonne cement. This project focuses on the basic science of different chemical approaches which can lead to a significant reduction (30 – 40%) in the energy consumption associated with cement production. This goal may be achieved by four fundamental concepts: (i) reduction of the cement-kiln temperature by modification of the clinker composition, (ii) development of new supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs), (iii) partial replacement of Portland clinkers by SCMs, and (iv) development of new hydrid binders with a small fraction of Portland cement, a large fraction of an aluminosilicate-rich phase, and activated by alkaline salts. The research will be conducted in an interdisciplinary environment, utilizing state-of-the-art equipment at the academic partners for nano- and micro-scale characterization and inorganic synthesis. Moreover, macro-scale facilities for production and physical/ mechanical testing available at Aalborg Portland A/S and FLSmidth A/S will be employed.

Participating parties

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Aarhus University, iNANO and Department of Chemistry: Assoc. Prof. Jørgen Skibsted (LowE-CEM Principal Investigator)

 The project will utilize the strong expertise within theoretical and experimental materials science at iNANO and the leading international position within the field of cementitious materials characterization in J. Skibsteds group. Solid-state NMR will be a key technique in most of the workpackages, considering the amorphous nature of several of the studied materials, utilizing the facilities at the Instrument Centre for Solid-State NMR Spectroscopy at the Department of Chemistry and iNANO. Furthermore, expertise and equipment of advanced materials characterization will also be available for the project at iNANO.    

Aalborg University

Aalborg University, Section of Chemistry: Prof. Yuanzheng Yue and Assist. Prof. Vittorio Boffa

The project will utilize the strong scientific expertise in glass chemistry and production by Y. Yue and V. Boffa and their experimental facilities for glass production equipment, high-temperature calorimetry and thermogravimetry, fiber drawing, low- and high-T viscometers, Vickers indenter, glass post-treatments and coating, and characterization of inorganic thin films. Over the last few years, Yue’s group has made significant progress in applying their strong expertise in glass chemistry to cement research with the aim of developing environmentally friendly cement products. 


The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU, Trondheim, Norway), Department of Structural Engineering: Prof. Mette R. Geiker 

The competences in cement and concrete cover cement and concrete chemistry, rheology, volume changes and cracking, structure - property relationships, durability, nano-mechanics, and multi-scale modelling. The expertise in cement and concrete chemistry has been strengthened at NTNU by joining competences and experimental resources from the Concrete Group and the Nano Mechanical Group at the Department of Structural Engineering and from the Inorganic Materials and Ceramics Research Groups at the Department of Materials Science. The Concrete Group at the Department of Structural Engineering has its own laboratory facilities currently covering (i) concrete production, (ii) fresh mortar and concrete rheology, (iii) shrinkage and creep, (iv) ice abrasion – low temperature performance, (v) large-scale mechanical testing, (vi) electrochemistry, (vii) climate rooms for long-term testing of durability and volume changes.


The Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA, Dübendorf, Switzerland), Laboratory of Concrete and Construction Chemistry: Senior Scientist Barbara Lothenbach 

The Laboratory of Concrete and Construction Chemistry at EMPA performs both fundamental and application-oriented research on cement-based building materials with the aim of improving the sustainability and durability of buildings by studying alternative binder systems. The interaction between solid and liquid phase during cement hydration, the influence of admixtures like plasticizers, the modelling of cement hydration and the micro- and nanostructure of fresh and hardened cement paste are key interests within the laboratory. The project will particularly profit from EMPA’s expertise in pore solution analysis, to understand the solid-liquid interaction during the hydration, and in thermodynamic modelling, to predict the composition of the hydrated systems and the influencing factors.


Aalborg Portland A/S, Cementir Holding, Aalborg, Denmark: R & D Director Jesper Sand Damtoft and chief scientist Duncan Herfort

Aalborg Portland A/S, the only cement producer in Denmark, is a major supplier of general purpose cement (grey Portland cement) to the Scandinavian market and a World market leader in white Portland cement production. The R&D Centre in Aalborg (managed by J. S. Damtoft) has a renowned expertise in cement product development, cement applications, and concrete technology which will be utilized in the project. In particular, the project will gain from the expert knowledge on thermodynamic modelling, mineralization technologies, an alkali activated systems by D. Herfort. Furthermore, the R&D Centre includes laboratory facilities dedicated to cement characterization (e.g. composition, particle size, reactivity, strength) which will be utilized to some extent in the project. 



FLSmidth A/S, Valby and Mariager, Denmark: General Manager Cement Research and R&D Centre Mariager Ole Mogensen, R&D Manager, Business Development Ebbe Jøns, and Research scientist Mette Moesgaard

FLSmidth A/S is a world leading supplier of equipment and services to the global cement and minerals industries with top competences in the development of advanced process solutions. FLSmidth has R&D departments in Valby and Mariager and the project will utilize the expertise at both places, in particular in the fields of cement production, SCM processing, and macro-scale sample characterization. FLSmidth has also dedicated equipment for a variety of physical tests including compressive strength measurements on small mortars. In addition to O. Mogensen (manager of R&D in Mariager), E. S. Jøns (Senior Research Engineer, Valby) and M. Moesgaard (Research scientist, Mariager) a part of the scientific staff at the Dania Centre in Mariager will also take part in the conduction and supervision of the individual WPs.