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By: Conley Smith on June 8th, 2021

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5 Fascinating Facts About Concrete

Construction Technology | Construction Fun

This week’s World of Concrete in Las Vegas is the first major trade show in the United States since the COVID pandemic changed the face of the convention and meeting business. For many, this is yet another sign of life slowly returning to normal for the construction industry.

If you’ve made the trek to this year’s WOC, you’re looking forward to it all—new products, cutting-edge tech, interactive workshops, hands-on training, and no doubt—the Bricklayer 500! This one-hour competition tests the speed and stamina to name the world’s greatest mason.

Whether you’re there in person or too busy in the field to attend, we join you in celebrating all things concrete this week. Here are some weird and wonderful facts about concrete, a strong and versatile material, that is used in everything from our kitchen countertops to the roads we drive on daily.

1. Concrete Usage is Staggering

With more than 10 billion tons of concrete being produced annually, concrete is the most consumed material in the world—other than water. With three tons used for every person in the world, twice as much concrete is used in construction as compared to all other building materials.

In the U.S. alone, this number is more than 500 million tons. Worth more than $37 billion, the concrete industry employs more than two million in the United States. With cement as its main ingredient, it is also responsible for 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

2. Concrete Has Come a Long Way Since 600 B.C.

Although Ancient Romans weren’t the first to mix mud and straw or create mortar, they were the first to utilize concrete in the majority of their construction. They successfully used a mixture of volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius, lime, and seawater to form the mix and packed it into wooden forms.

The Roman civil engineer Vitruvius wrote about four types of “pozzolana”—black, grey, red, and white. In fact, the Romans understood the waterproof qualities of this new building material, using it to construct their port at Cosa.

Even more impressive is the Roman Pantheon, which was made entirely out of concrete, without the reinforcing support of structural steel. Its impressive 142-foot-high dome still stands today. It is a massive concrete building and has weathered earthquakes and other natural disasters during its 2,000 years.

3. Concrete Helped Win World War II

Concrete “sound mirrors” were used at the start of World War II to provide an early warning of approaching aircraft. Before radar was developed, the British erected parabolic acoustic mirrors or listening ears to detect aircraft. With a network of sound reflectors constructed along the English coast, the British could detect the sound of approaching German aircraft.

The concave concrete structures were designed to pick up sound waves from enemy aircraft, making it possible to predict their flight trajectory, providing ground forces more time to prepare British defenses.

4. World’s Largest Concrete Structure is in China

At 185 meters high and 2,309 meters long, the Three Gorges Dam on China’s Yangtze River is the largest concrete dam. Built over 17 years between 1994 and 2006, the project cost $37 billion to construct. Workers used some 21 million cubic yards of concrete in the structure—a world record.

A hydroelectric station that can generate an incredible 22,500 MW of power, the dam’s reservoir holds as much water as Lake Superior.

5. Concrete Furniture? Maybe Not a Lightbulb Moment

Did you know Thomas Edison held 49 patents related to concrete? In addition to inventing the light bulb, Edison’s patents included cement processing equipment, waterproofing cement paint, and even a mold for single-pour concrete construction.

In addition, Edison envisioned a future with concrete houses, concrete furniture, and even concrete pianos, and refrigerators. He created the Edison Portland Cement Company after he noticed the amount of sand waste produced by his ore milling company. He sold the fine sand particles to cement manufacturers for concrete production.

While these facts and history about the concrete industry may not help you win at Jeopardy, there are plenty more to pour over when it comes to this strong and versatile material.

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