Secrets of Ancient Rome's Amazing Concrete Revealed
Study could bring changes to modern construction
By John Johnson, Newser Staff
Posted Jun 22, 2013 8:42 AM CDT

(Newser) – The ancient Romans were so skilled at making concrete that breakwaters poured more than 2,000 years ago are still doing fine. The modern stuff? Give it 50 years before it starts eroding in seawater. Now, however, scientists think they've figured out how the Romans did it—and the findings could make today's concrete not only much stronger but more environmentally friendly, reports Bloomberg Businessweek. The Roman formula involves a combination of volcanic ash and lime that modern concrete lacks, and it uses a different "glue" to hold the components of concrete together, say researchers at the Berkeley Lab. (The resulting compound is "calcium-aluminum-silicate-hydrate" for the technical-minded.)

An example of the Roman ingenuity:

  • “For underwater structures, lime and volcanic ash were mixed to form mortar, and this mortar and volcanic tuff were packed into wooden forms," say the researchers. "The seawater instantly triggered a hot chemical reaction. The lime was hydrated—incorporating water molecules into its structure—and reacted with the ash to cement the whole mixture together.”
What's more, the Romans used less lime and baked it at lower temperatures, meaning the process was greener because it released less carbon into the atmosphere, says By contrast, today's process is a big source of industry pollution. Says a Berkeley scientist: "The question remains, can we translate the principles from ancient Rome to the production of modern concrete? I think that is what is so exciting about this new area of research."

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Jun 26, 2013 5:39 PM CDT
I find it amusing, and somewhat interesting, a report on Roman-era concrete dissolves into political debate which ends with a snarky comment about President Obama! Our democratic republic owes a lot of its problems to the rise of an overclass weilding money and power with those who are supposed to represent their constituencies. Whatever... hopefully the report on the properties of Roman Era concrete vs our lesser grade modern stuff could make for better, longer lasting Interstate Highways?! Not to mention bridges, railroad lines, telephone poles that stand up to storms, etc.
Jun 22, 2013 10:48 PM CDT
My Dad, Wm.B. Magee, Post Engineer, PQMD in Phila., had a theory that the ancient Egyptians knew how to make 'ROCK'. That would be how they had such impeckably close tolerance between the Stones in making the Pyramids. Also it would solve the transportation up the site, question. As I said it was a Theory. I miss my Dad every day. ~Rick Magee, FL "MOLON LABE"
Jun 22, 2013 8:12 PM CDT
Roman engineering is amazing. When I went to Europe, gawking at Roman baths, lavatories, aqueducts, country villas, mosaic floors, and other examples of their ingenuity was my favorite activity. Once I read a book that detailed their building techniques. One of the best chapters was about the way they constructed their roads. They built them like they expected them to last for eternity.