Inorganic hydrates such as calcium-silicate-hydrate, (CaO)x(SiO2)(H2O)y, abbreviated C-S-H, are “wonder” materials exceedingly rich in terms of potential applications that can be produced in almost any shape or form, cheaply and in large quantities right across the world from local and sustainable resources. C-S-H is the “glue” of cement, itself the glue of concrete, material with enormous economic impact. But C-S-H and other hydrates are also used as a filler in paper and in polymer composites, as dental filling materials, for waste water treatment in fertilizers and as insulation and encasement materials including for nuclear waste.
The overarching aim of the ERICA project is to understand how to engineer hydrates at the nanoscale, to enable improved engineering applications, and to train a cohort of materials scientists who will be able to carry these research advances forward in future employment.
This aim will be reached by achieving specific objectives as follows:
- To discover how C-S-H nucleates and grows;
- To show that C-S-H can be engineered at the nano-scale;-
- To evidence what happens at the nanoscale during the first and subsequent sorption cycles;
- To elucidate how this impacts water and small ion transport in agglomerates of hydrates;
- To validate improved materials and production methods for real-world applications;
- To deliver world-class training in hydrate materials science, opportunities and transferable skills.
In order to achieve the foregoing objectives, ERICA exploits recent advances in:
- Methods for controlled synthesis of calcium-silicate-hydrate as a function of CaO to SiO2 ratio;
- Understanding of hydrate chemistry during early stages of growth;
- Numerical modelling (especially molecular dynamics) of hydrates;
- Recognition of the importance of the first sorption cycle in modifying structure and
- Experimental techniques, especially 1H Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) relaxometry, that have
- allowed non-invasive and non-destructive measurement of micro-structural evolution during growth and water sorption.