What is Cement Made Of and How is it Used in Construction?

What Materials Make Up Cement?

There are many materials that make up cement, but the most common are:

  • Limestone
  • Shells
  • Chalk

However, cement can be combined with marl, sand and iron ore (depending on the required use). When heated, the above components form a hard, rock-like substance which is then finely ground into a powdery substance – known as cement! 

How is Cement Made?

In modern construction, cement is made in laboratories and goes through a series of rigorous chemical and physical tests to ensure that it’s appropriate for all construction-related specifications. Most companies creating cement will use what’s known as a dry method. This type of manufacturing involves grinding the raw materials (predominantly limestone and clay) all the way down to a power form. It is then combined with other materials, including iron ore, sand and fly ash, mixed, and then inserted into a kiln. 

When the cement is inserted into the kiln

Kiln’s are usually set at approximitelyt 2,700 degrees fahrenheit in order to efficiently get to work on the cement. Most traditional kilns are roughly 10 – 14 ft in diameter, with some industrial kilns ranging to the height of 50 storey buildings. There are two parts to the kiln, a high end and a low end. At the high end, the finely ground material is inserted, and is blasted by flames produced at the lower end. 

While the material burns in the kiln, some elements are burned away and turned into gases and a new substance – known as clinker – is formed. Clinker looks like small grey marbles and they are filtered out of the lower end of the kiln and are then cooled to a handleable temperature. Once cooled, the clinker is ground and mixed with gypsum and limestone and is now ready to be used in any concrete construction project.

Fun fact

Did you know that the content of cement is ground so fine, that every 1lb of cement contains 150 billion grains?

Although the dry process is the most modern and popular way to manufacture cement, some kilns in the United States use a wet process. The two processes are essentially alike except in the wet process, the raw materials are ground with water before being fed into the kiln.

Why Do We Use Portland Cement?

Portland cement remains the most used and common type of cement in the construction market. It’s created using the methods above, with the core materials including limestone and clay in a kiln (these are the binding materials). Portland cement typically comes in two colours; grey and white. Lime made way for cement around the early 19th century, as it brought a number of benefits with it:

  • Faster setting times
  • Cement has properties that allows it to set under water (lime does not)
  • Cement has a faster curing time than lime
  • Cement also gains its strength much earlier than lime

One of the main reasons we still use Portland cement today is because of its exceptional binding properties. Portland cement is able to provide strength to structural elements, and is much stronger under compressive loads and can be used in either cement mortar or concrete. It’s the basic ingredient for mortar and concrete.

How Cement is Used in Concrete

It’s common knowledge that concrete consists of gravel and sand (aggregates), cement, water and air. Together, cement and concrete work together to create durable structures, form concrete floors to entire buildings. Concrete can also be cast into any shape. Concrete is the most popular building material across the globe and is used as a load-bearing element (a term that refers to the use of single or a multiple arrangement of rectangular elements to support significant structural loads for structures).

What is Cement Used For?

Cement is most commonly used in constructing large projects at both domestic and industrial levels. From constructing the walls, floors and roofs in your home to building schools, car parks, hospitals and even dams. Concrete is among the most versatile materials in the construction industry and can be mixed and created to meet almost any requirement, whether it’s lining your swimming pool at home or building a school.

Alternatives to Portland Cement

There are materials that can be used in place of Portland cement, these include:

  • Fly-ash (a by-product of coal-burning power stations)
  • Rice husk
  • Ground granulated blast-furnace slag
  • Limestone fines

The Different Types of Cement

Below we have detailed the various different types of cement and their uses: 

PVC Cement – PVC cement is typically designed for a variety of drainage and plumbing needs. The PVC is ideal for filtering waste water and any wastage. 

Asphalt Concrete – used primarily for pavement mixes. It is made from rough 5% asphalt cement and 95% aggregates – which include mainly sand and gravel. Asphalt cement is extremely vicious and it is for that reason it must be heard and mixed with aggratest at a certified mixing factory.

Cement boards – consist of cement which contains cellulose. The boards are typically used as backing tiles and are preferred over paper-covered gypsum. Tiles are typically used in areas that are susceptible to water damage, so it’s important to install a backboard that is water-resistant. Cement boards are great at this task.

Fire Cement – a heat resistant putty-based cement that is used in sealing joints within hot areas (such as stoves). Fire cement is also used when fixing firebricks.

Bone cements – bone cements have nothing to do with construction. Bone cements have been around for a long time and are used in orthopedic surgery. 

Fiber cement – a composite material that combines cement with cellulose fibers. It is used in both domestic and industrial construction, usually in the roofing of buildings. Most fiber cement boards are pre-painted (or stained) but if they aren’t, you can do this after they have been installed.

Green Cement – this type of clement is made from calcined clay and powdered limestone. As the name may suggest, green cement has a manufacturing process that reduces carbon emissions. Not only that, green cement has enhanced mechanical strength.

Hydraulic cement – a type of cement that is constructed using limestone, gypsum and clay burned at very high temperatures. The result is hydraulic cement. It dries very quickly, in just a few minutes. In the case of non-hydraulic cement, this takes on a different hardening approach and can take up to one month or more before it’s able to be used.

Rubber Cement – not used in construction; rubber cement is used for gluing and binding items such as books and photos. It’s an adhesive material with a flexible bond. 

White Cement – a very strong type of cement that is predominantly used to ensure stunning and consistent designs options. It’s a decorative cement type, used in mainly dometic settings, specifically architectural concrete. 

Is Cement the Best Building Material?

Cement is certainly one of the most popular building materials across the globe, and is very versatile, making it a fantastic option for almost any domestic or industrial construction job. Cement is also one of the most cost-effective building materials and the need for repairs is often very low. However, cement benefits most when it is combined with concrete. While cement is very strong, concrete is stronger as it uses cement as part of the aggregation process. 

We have written an article on what concrete is and why it’s essential in the construction industry. 

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