A University of Texas at Arlington civil engineering researcher is taking a page from ancient civilizations to create a more resilient, longer-lasting, more durable cement material.
Warda Ashraf, associate professor of civil engineering, received the Director’s Award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
She was one of 29 recipients of the DARPA Young Faculty Award (YFA) in 2020, which provided nearly $500,000 in funding support for her research over a two-year period. The new DARPA Director’s Award extends the support by an additional $247,000 for one year.
This highly selective award is only given to the top performers among recent recipients of the DARPA YFA, a program established to encourage early-career scientists to pursue high-risk, high-reward research that can result in breakthrough technologies for national security needs.
Ashraf’s results were recently published in Applied Clay Science, Elsevier. The findings also were published in ScienceDirect.
Ashraf has developed the formula and corresponding processing techniques of a novel cementitious material by mimicking the reaction mechanism of ancient Roman concrete.
“The recipe for this cementitious material includes the use of naturally abundant clay with hydrated lime and seawater,” Ashraf said. “This newly developed cementitious material was able to mimic the nano-to-microstructural features of Roman concrete and showed superior macroscale mechanical performances compared to those of ancient materials.”
The material also showed better durability performance than modern cementitious materials in laboratory exposure conditions. It has the potential to significantly reduce the maintenance cost of coastal infrastructures.
“The material really represents a game-changer in the world of cement materials,” Ashraf said. “It increases durability while reducing costs.”
Melanie Sattler, interim chair of the Department of Civil Engineering, said Ashraf’s research on cement materials has the opportunity to reach across the globe.
“Anyone who uses cement could try this new material,” Sattler said. “This research has a chance to rewrite the way the cement business is conducted worldwide.”
With the additional Director’s Award funding, Ashraf and her team will investigate the performance of the newly developed calcined, clay-based cementitious materials in real seawater exposure conditions.
For this work, they will prepare concrete elements using the newly developed composition and install those in the Corpus Christi Bay area in Texas. The performance of the concrete elements in seawater will be monitored at regular intervals. They will also evaluate the environmental impacts of the developed material to ensure it can be manufactured sustainably.