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The usage of concrete, worldwide, is twice as much as steel, wood, plastics, and aluminum combined. Concrete's use in the modern world is only exceeded by the usage of naturally occurring water.

Concrete is also the basis of a large commercial industry, with all the positives and negatives that entails. In South Africa alone, concrete production is a multi-billion Rand per year industry, considering only the value of the ready-mixed concrete sold each year.

Given the size of the concrete industry, and the fundamental way concrete is used to shape the infrastructure of the modern world, it is difficult to overstate the role this material plays today.


Mass concrete structures

These large structures typically include gravity dams, such as the Hoover Dam, the Itaipu Dam and the Three Gorges Dam, arch dams, navigation locks and large breakwaters. Such large structures, even though individually placed in formed horizontal blocks, generate excessive heat and associated expansion; to mitigate these effects post-cooling is commonly provided in the design. An early example at Hoover Dam, installed a network of pipes between vertical concrete placements to circulate cooling water during the curing process to avoid damaging overheating. Similar systems are still used; depending on volume of the pour, the concrete mix used, and ambient air temperature, the cooling process may last for many months after the concrete is placed. Various methods also are used to pre-cool the concrete mix in mass concrete structures.

Another approach to mass concrete structures that is becoming more widespread is the use of roller-compacted concrete, which uses much lower levels of cement and water than traditional concrete mixtures, and is generally not poured into place. Instead it is placed in thick layers as a semi-dry material and compacted into a dense, strong mass with rolling compactors. Because it uses less cementitious material, Roller Compacted Concrete has a much lower cooling requirement than traditional concrete.
Concrete that is poured all at once in one form (so that there are no weak points where the concrete is "welded" together) is used for tornado shelters.

Pre-stressed concrete structures

Pre-stressed concrete is a form of reinforced concrete that builds in compressive stresses during construction to oppose those found when in use. This can greatly reduce the weight of beams or slabs, by better distributing the stresses in the structure to make optimal use of the reinforcement. For example a horizontal beam tends to sag. Pre-stressed reinforcement along the bottom of the beam counteracts this. In pre-tensioned concrete, the pre-stressing is achieved by using steel or polymer tendons or bars that are subjected to a tensile force prior to casting, or for post-tensioned concrete, after casting.

Concrete textures

When one thinks of concrete, the image of a dull, gray concrete wall often comes to mind. With the use of form liner, concrete can be cast and molded into different textures and used for decorative concrete applications. Sound/retaining walls, bridges, office buildings and more serve as the optimal canvases for concrete art. For example, the Pima Freeway/Loop 101 retaining and sound walls in Scottsdale, Arizona, feature desert flora and fauna, a 67-foot (20 m) lizard and 40-foot (12 m) cacti along the 8-mile (13 km) stretch. The project, titled "The Path Most Traveled," is one example of how concrete can be shaped using elastomeric form liner.


Concrete is one of the most durable building materials. It provides superior fire resistance, compared with wooden construction, gains strength over time and structures made of concrete can have a long service life.

**DID YOU KNOW…? Concrete is used more than any other man-made material in the world. As of 2006, about 7.5 billion cubic meters of concrete are made each year—more than one cubic meter for every person on Earth.

Energy efficiency

Energy requirements for transportation of concrete are low because it is produced locally from local resources, typically manufactured within 100 kilometers of the job site. Similarly, relatively little energy is used in producing and combining the raw materials (although large amounts of CO2 are produced by the chemical reactions in cement manufacture). The overall embodied energy of concrete is therefore lower than for most structural materials other than wood.

Once in place, concrete offers significant energy efficiency over the lifetime of a building. Concrete walls leak air far less than those made of wood-frames. Air leakage accounts for a large percentage of energy loss from a home. The thermal mass properties of concrete increase the efficiency of both residential and commercial buildings. By storing and releasing the energy needed for heating or cooling, concrete's thermal mass delivers year-round benefits by reducing temperature swings inside and minimizing heating and cooling costs. While insulation reduces energy loss through the building envelope, thermal mass uses walls to store and release energy. Modern concrete wall systems use both external insulation and thermal mass to create an energy-efficient building. Insulating Concrete Forms (ICFs) are hollow blocks or panels made of either insulating foam or rastra that are stacked to form the shape of the walls of a building and then filled with reinforced concrete to create the structure.

Pervious concrete

Pervious concrete is a mix of specially graded coarse aggregate, cement, water and little-to-no fine aggregates. This concrete is also known as ‘no-fines’ or porous concrete. Mixing the ingredients in a carefully controlled process creates a paste that coats and bonds the aggregate particles. The hardened concrete contains interconnected air voids totaling approximately 15 to 25 percent. Water runs through the voids in the pavement to the soil underneath. Air entrainment admixtures are often used in freeze-thaw climates to minimize the possibility of frost damage.

Fire safety

Concrete buildings are more resistant to fire than those constructed using wood or steel frames, since concrete does not burn. Concrete reduces the risk of structural collapse and is an effective fire shield, providing safe means of escape for occupants and protection for fire fighters.

Options for non-combustible construction include floors, ceilings and roofs made of cast-in-place and hollow-core precast concrete. For walls, concrete masonry technology and Insulating Concrete Forms (ICFs) are additional options. ICFs are hollow blocks or panels made of fire-proof insulating foam that are stacked to form the shape of the walls of a building and then filled with reinforced concrete to create the structure.

Concrete also provides the best resistance of any building material to high winds, hurricanes, tornadoes due to its lateral stiffness that results in minimal horizontal movement.

Earthquake safety

Earthquakes can generate very large shear loads on structures, these shear loads subject the structure to both tensile and compressional loads. Concrete structures without reinforcing, like other unreinforced masonry structures, can fail during severe earthquake shaking. Unreinforced masonry structures constitute one of the largest earthquake risks globally.

Useful life

Concrete can be viewed as a form of artificial sedimentary rock. As a type of mineral, the compounds of which it is composed are extremely stable. Many concrete structures are built with an expected lifetime of approximately 100 years, but researchers have suggested that adding silica fume could extend the useful life of bridges and other concrete uses to as long as 16,000 years.

Coatings are also available to protect concrete from damage, and extend the useful life. Epoxy coatings may only be applied to interior surfaces, though, as they would otherwise trap moisture in the concrete. Self-healing concrete has been developed, which can also last longer than traditional concrete.