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High-tech concrete could reduce summer construction. But can we afford it?

Flickr user/_chrisUK
Ultra-high performance concrete is a relatively new invention. Standard concrete, on the other hand, has been around since the Romans.

As the summer road construction season moves into its final weeks, you might find yourself wondering: instead of pouring time and money into patching roads that crack every year during the winter, why not make better concrete?

We found someone who's working on the answer to that question. Mo Alkaysi is a newly-graduated PhD with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Michigan. He did his dissertation on ultra-high performance concrete, and we spoke to him to learn more about the concrete that is approximately one tenth the strength of steel.  

Compared to standard concrete, it’s a much more durable and resilient material, Alkaysi told Stateside. The difference? Fewer coarse aggregates. Made from finer sands and powders, ultra-high performance concrete is a much less porous material, which prevents water from seeping in.

Given its strength and durability, we might ask why we’re seeing so little ultra-high performance concrete on our roads. One of the reasons for that is likely financial: “It’s generally more expensive than concrete is today,” said Alkaysi. “Coarse aggregates — those big rocks and gravel — they’re pretty cheap.”

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