tio2 Building a Better (Cleaner) World in the 21st Century

Self-cleaning buildings and pollution-reducing roadways: These may sound like futuristic ideas, but they are realities of some of today’s concrete. Recently introduced formulations of cement are able to neutralize pollution. Harmful smog can be turned into harmless compounds and washed away. Anything made out of concrete is a potential application, because these cements are used in the same manner as regular portland cements. These products provide value through unique architectural and environmental performance capabilities.

Proprietary technology (based on particles of tio2) is what makes this cement special. The technology can be applied to white or gray cement and it works like any other portland cement: it can be used in all varieties of concrete, including plaster. Presumably, applications for mortar might be beneficial, too., although the mortar has a smaller surface area. The only difference is that it is capable of breaking down smog or other pollution that has attached itself to the concrete substrate, in a process known as photocatalysis. As sunlight hits the surface, most organic and some inorganic pollutants are neutralized. They would otherwise lead to discolored concrete surfaces.

The tio2-based catalyst is not spent as it breaks down pollution, but continues to work. Typical products are oxygen, water, carbon dioxide, nitrate, and sulfate. Because rain washes away the pollution from the concrete surface, buildings stay cleaner and do not require chemical applications that are potentially harmful to the environment. Maintenance costs are reduced. This is true even for buildings in highly polluted locations—one noted tio2 application is the Air France headquarters at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle International Airport near Paris, a white concrete building that has remained white. Another is the Church of the Year 2000 in Rome.

Clean buildings are great: A perhaps even more astounding environmental benefit is the potential for cleaner air. Concrete products that are exposed to sunlight throughout their life, like precast building panels, pavers, and roof tiles, are especially suited to manufacture with photocatalytic cement. For instance, city streets made with special pavers are capable of reducing the pollution at its source—where it comes out of the tailpipe.

Photocatalytic Pavements Reduce Air Pollution

The need for pavements is ubiquitous. As our population increases, more roads are needed to get people and goods from place to place. Unfortunately, with this added traffic comes a higher concentration of air pollution. To reduce our current and future levels of air pollution, more attention is being given to the use of photocatalytic tio2 concrete in pavements.

The internal combustion engine is used everywhere in the United States, from cars to trains to jets. These engines produce the power required to travel, but also emit pollution. The primary pollution from fossil fuel combustion is carbon dioxide (CO2), but other gasses are formed, such as NOx and SOx, that can lead to acid rain, smog, and respiratory issues. According to the EPA, 34% of the national NOx emissions come from vehicles on roads.

Photocatalytic concrete contains titanium dioxide particles that act as the catalyst for the natural breakdown of NOx into nitrates in sunlight. This occurs at the surface of the concrete, where the nitrates can be easily washed away. Without the catalyst, the NOx will breakdown in the atmosphere, creating photochemical smog and ground level ozone. With an abundant surface area and proximity to a major source of air pollution, the use of photocatalytic concrete for pavements is a logical concept.

A study conducted in the Netherlands used photocatalytic concrete pavers on a section of a busy roadway and monitored the air quality 0.5 m (19.5 in.) to 1.5 m (58.5 in.) above the pavement in both a control area with normal pavers and the test section. It was found that the NOx levels were reduced by 25 to 45 percent.

The Missouri Department of Transportation, with consultation from the CP Tech Center and the FHWA, is currently preparing for a trial section of photocatalytic pavement in the St. Louis area. The St. Louis area is designated a non-attainment area with regards to particulate matter with a moderate concern for ground-level ozone, both being primary components of photochemical smog. The use of photocatalytic pavements or pavement-related structures is being discussed to bring the region down to attainment levels. The photocatalytic cement is being evaluated in comparison to typical local Type I cement for strength, permeability, deicer scaling resistance, air void system, and compatibility with admixtures and curing compounds. So far, the differences between the control mixture and photocatalytic mixture have been statistically negligible.

Ultimately, the photocatalytic concrete will be tested on a roadway. The current concept for the design is a two-lift pavement, with the photocatalytic portion being a 2-inch bonded overlay on-top of an 8-inch non-photocatalytic concrete base. The air quality and, possibly, the run-off water quality will be monitored. The ultimate goal is to assess the effectiveness of photocatalytic concrete for use in pavements, barrier walls, sound walls, or other pavement-related structures.

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