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Concrete: what can the material do and why do alternatives make sense?

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Concrete is among the most popular and widely used building materials in the world. It is often used for the design and furnishing of rooms in modern interior design. However, because it is disadvantageous for the environment, its use is in the meantime intensely disputed. Researchers are therefore working on ecological concrete alternatives. Read everything worth knowing about it here.

concrete-elegant foyer of concrete-ricardo gomez angel-on unsplash

The protean and flexible properties of concrete create impressive architectures through cool walls and sharp edges. (Photo: Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash)

Building material concrete: obsolete or modern?

Although it seems very modern as a material, human beings have already been familiar with concrete as a binder for around 14,000 years. The mixture consists fundamentally of sand, gravel, cement, water and other ingredients. Craftsmen primarily used it at that time in the Ottoman Empire, present-day Turkey, to lay bricks. After only being used little for a long time, it once again became more widely used in the 18th century. Thanks to the continuous further development of the material, concrete gradually also became increasingly popular for interiors.

The building material concrete is attractive from a static and building physics perspective and unites many advantages. It scores points not only with particular stability and compressive strength. Concrete can also be used flexibly and simply. The material mixture is poured as a liquid into a desired mould and only needs to harden. The material is also only flame-resistant; it even withstands temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius. The acoustic insulation quality is also a big plus. Acoustic sounds travel less quickly into rooms or outdoors – and pleasant room acoustics generally contribute to a good living feeling.

Using concrete for walls and furniture

Concrete is being used increasingly in interior design on walls and for furniture design. Concrete walls give rooms a minimalist, cool look. They can also be combined in a variety of ways. Those who, for example, like orderly, cool rooms with structure, combine concrete with glass and steel or other smooth surfaces. Wood and other natural materials complement concrete walls to create a natural, warm room atmosphere. Colourful elements or rough areas make interiors just as comfortable. By the way, tiles with a concrete visual are also seen as alternatives to cast concrete walls.

Concrete furniture comes up trumps as a real eye-catcher and brings a modern flair with it. Pigmented with coloured elements, tables or benches, for example, are visually both playful and elegant. From a statics perspective, they are in fact much heavier than furnishings of plastic or wood. At the same time, they score points with their stable and pressure-resistant properties. It must be tested in advance whether a floor is capable of carrying the weight of concrete furniture.

Concrete-tiles-with wood-nicolas gonzalez on unsplash

Natural elements lend concretre tiles and concrete walls a warm atmosphere and cosy flair. (Photo: Nicolas Gonzalez on Unsplash)

The disadvantage: concrete and sustainability

The building material concrete has a big flaw: it is hardly sustainable, as around 700 kilograms of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide are released into the air during the production of one tonne of cement. The cement industry is thus responsible for around 6 percent of global CO2 emissions.

This could only be reduced by a third without greater effort. This third is the energy share that can be operated with green energy. The remaining two thirds of the CO2 emissions originate from chemical reactions.

Ecologically sensible concrete alternatives

For this reason, the industry is researching possible concrete alternatives. There are already several innovative approaches to solutions. However, they must pass through many test phases before they can be used for production. These include, for one, food product remains , from which scientists create unbreakable building materials as concrete alternatives. From industrial byproducts like, for example, rice husks or silicate dust, a building material can also originate that preserves resources: geopolymer concrete.

Hemp is also used as the foundation for hemp concrete or hempcrete, a promising candidate. With it, designers design furnishings that can be 100 percent recycled.

Another approach experiments with the root systems of fungi. The Italian company Mogu tests this concrete alternative primarily for interiors in the form of floor tiles. Niruk, a design studio from Germany, creates Corcrete – a material mixture of recycling cork with bamboo fibres and concrete. In the case of these composite materials, much less concrete is used than with conventional processes.

Another innovation comes from CarbonCure in Canada. The company has developed a process that reduces CO2 emissions during manufacture. A chemical process ensures that CO2 from the atmosphere is initially absorbed and then converted into a nanomineral. This is also co-processed in the concrete. A cycle that immediately offers two advantages: it reduces the CO2 emissions and the CO2 share in the atmosphere.

High demand for concrete

Whether walls, floors or furniture of concrete – the material is in demand in interior design for all kinds of reasons. Although concrete is old as dirt in the truest sense of the word, it today involves no aesthetic sacrifices – quite the opposite. It can be combined in a variety of ways and lends rooms a modern, minimalist look. However, due to the environmentally damaging manufacturing processes, the demand for concrete alternatives is increasing rapidly. Several companies already offer innovative solutions that are promising for the furnishing industry.

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