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Emanuela Del Gado : Gelation and densification of cement hydrates: a soft matter in construction



5-8 % of the global human CO2 production comes from the production of cement, concrete main binder. The material strength emerges through the development, once in contact with water, of calcium-silicate-hydrate (C-S-H) gels that literally glue together the final compound. Current industrial research aims at exploring alternative and more environmentally friendly chemical compositions while enhancing rheology and mechanics, to overcome the many technological challenges and guarantee concrete standards. Identifying the fundamental mechanisms that control the gel properties at the early stages of hydration and setting is crucial, although challenging, because of far-from-equilibrium conditions, closely intertwined to the evolution of the chemical environment, that are a hallmark of cement hydration.
I will discuss a recently developed statistical physics approach, which allows us to investigate the gel formation under the out-of-equilibrium conditions typical of cement hydration and the role of the nano-scale structure in C-S-H mechanics upon hardening. Our approach, combining Monte Carlo and Molecular Dynamics simulations, unveils for the first time how some distinctive features of the kinetics of cement hydration can be related to the nano-scale effective interactions and to the changes in the morphology of the gels. The novel emerging picture is that the changes of the physico-chemical environment, which dictate the evolution of the effective interactions, specifically favor the gel formation and its continuous densification. Our findings provide new handles to design properties of this complex material and an extensive comparison of numerical findings for the hardened paste with experiments ranging from SANS, SEM, adsorption/desorption of N2 and water to nano-indentation provide new, fundamental insights into the microscopic origin of the properties measured.
K. Ioannidou, R.J.-M. Pellenq and E. Del Gado Controlling local packing and growth in calcium-silicate-hydrate gels , Soft Matter 10, 1121 (2014)
E. Del Gado, K. Ioannidou, E. Masoero, A. Baronnet, R. J.-M. Pellenq, F. J. Ulm and S. Yip, A soft matter in construction - Statistical physics approachfor formation and mechanics of C--S--H gels in cement, Eur. Phys. J. - ST 223, 2285 (2014).
K. Ioannidou, K.J. Krakowiak, M. Bauchy, C.G. Hoover, E. Masoero, S. Yip, F.-J. Ulm, P. Levitz, R.J.-M. Pellenq and E. Del Gado, The mesoscale textureof cement hydrates , PNAS 113, 2029 (2016)**
K. Ioannidou, M. Kanduc, L. Li, D. Frenkel, J. Dobnikar and E. Del Gado, The crucial effect of early-stage gelation on the mechanical properties of cement hydrates , under review

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