Is rice husk ash an eco-friendly replacement for cement?

Cement is a mainstay in the construction of buildings. Photo: Yevhen Bondarchuk/istock.com

The adverse impact of manufacturing cement on the environment is well documented for years now. But cement is a mainstay in the construction of buildings, and hence its irreplaceability as a vital ingredient of concrete mixture has been much touted, leading to its mass production globally.

As part of mankind’s relentless efforts to find a replacement for cement in manufacturing, researchers from ten universities across the globe have nearly zeroed in on exploring the viability of using Rice Husk Ash (RHA) in place of cement for manufacturing activities.

RHA has a rich concentration of silica, researchers figured out. So, when RHA is used to manufacture concrete, it triggers a chemical reaction with hydrates, especially calcium hydroxides. This, researchers say, results in formation of supplementary products that provide strength and stability, which are vital for concrete mixtures that are used in construction.

Hence researchers believe a partial use of RHA reduces the dependence on cement in concrete without compromising on stability and strength. This boosts the unequivocal backing of environmentalists to find a replacement for cement with a lower carbon footprint. While concrete is manufactured with cement as an ingredient it results in release of a huge amount of carbon dioxide to the nature.

Researchers deployed machine learning techniques in their quest to find the 'compressive strength' of RHA-based concrete. This landmark research is considered a valuable tool to provide insights and guidance to builders on the chances of effective deployment of RHA as a substitute for cement in a concrete mixture.

The American University of Ras Al Khaimah, or AURAK, is spearheading the research project on RHA and the second phase of the research is on.

The research is being done by replacing cement in various quantities – five, ten and fifteen per cent– with RHA in the production of concrete. The research also aims to study the durability and strength provided by such mixtures in the initial and later states of concrete.

Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs and Student Success and Provost at AURAK, Prof. Stephen Wilhite, is of the opinion that the research is part of the global efforts to invent substitutes for environmentally hazardous material like cement, thereby reducing CO2 emissions.
To put the harmful effects of cement manufacturing process in perspective, stats provided by the US Geological Survey reveal that if a tonne of cement is manufactured, the process results in the emission of 0.9 tonnes of CO2.

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