UAE architects produce cement from salt

An Dubai-based architect duo wants to break away from traditional building practices with an alternative cement designed in UAE’s salt flats and made using problematic waste material.

Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto, chief architects WaiwaiHe joined scientific knowledge to create a cement made using the desalination plants produced by the UAE and Japan’s desalination plants that remove salt from the UAE’s seawater.

They were inspired by the mineral-rich sabkha-salt flats, a part of the UAE’s wetlands. “This is a huge area … often overlooked,” Al Awar told CNN.

Sabkha was previously used in architecture: centuries ago, blocks of salt circles were cut and SiwaIs a medieval town near the Libyan border in Egypt. But instead of the sensitive sabkha ecosystem, Al Awar and Teramoto have turned into saltwater, which contains many of the same minerals.
Ancient walls of Siwa Oasis, Egypt Shali.

Ancient walls of Siwa Oasis, Egypt Shali. Credit: CRIS BOURONCLE / AFP / AFP via Getty Images

Freshwater scarce UAE has one of the world’s largest desalination operations. As a byproduct, it produces about a fifth of the world’s brine – about 28 million cubic meters per day 2019 UN supported report. But to discharge the brine into the sea can harm marine life. Finding uses for desalination brine, AED 3.4 million ($ 930,000)Rethink Pickling Challenge“earlier this year.

Contains pickled magnesium minerals. Kemal Çelik, a civil and urban engineering assistant professor at New York University Abu Dhabi and part of a team at the university’s AMBER Lab, extracted magnesium compound from the liquid and used it to make cement.

Steel said that cement was poured into blocks and then placed in a carbon dioxide chamber – an innovation that speeds up the production process. The cement was tested in the UAE before it was sent to Japan, where the blocks underwent more strength and hardness testing. Also, structural designer Mika Araki from Tokyo University told CNN that an algorithm has been developed to calculate how safe the blocks will be when used in construction.

Precast blocks “tomorrow” can be used to build a single-storey building, but Al Awar hopes to further develop the product for use in it and Teramoto multi-storey buildings.

Al Awar claims that magnesium-based cements can perform “equivalent to Portland cement,” which uses calcium carbonate as raw material and is the most commonly used cement in concrete production.

However, magnesium cement has its limitations. As a salt-based product, it says that it is liable to corrode the steel reinforcement, although it is possible to reinforce it with other materials.

Salt water-based cement precast blocks created by Al Awar, Teramoto and their academic collaborators.

Salt water-based cement precast blocks created by Al Awar, Teramoto and their academic collaborators. Credit: Photo of Sahil Abdul Latheef by National Pavilion UAE La Biennale di Venezia

Professor John Provis is Vice President of Materials Science and Engineering at Sheffield University, UK, and is independent of the project. He explained that salt-based cement is a “really good idea” and only a third of the cement is used as reinforced concrete globally.

“This is a pain to remove saltwater,” he adds. “They take a local waste and do great things with it. I think it’s a really nice synergy.”

Al Awar says that he and Teramoto are motivated by the desire to build a more sustainable and environmentally friendly architecture. “Given the CO2 emissions in the world and global warming and all these alarms that have been sounding for years, it is our duty – our responsibility -” he says.

Cement production it is usually energy intensive and has a wide carbon footprint. According to the International Energy Agency, the cement industry is the third largest industrial energy consumer in the world and 7% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Çelik says that building the carbon footprint of magnesium cement is part of the life cycle study, which will compare it to normal Portland cement and other materials.
Kenichi Teramoto and Wael Al Awar are curators of the UAE National Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennial.

Kenichi Teramoto and Wael Al Awar are curators of the UAE National Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennial. Credit: Courtesy of the United Arab Emirates

In May 2021, Al Awar and Teramoto will choose the UAE National Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennial, where alternative cements will be displayed at “Wetland” exhibitions. Although the steel says that cement will not be based on salt water, but they are not yet ready to grow production, the pavilion will be made of magnesium-based cement.

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“Research is still early,” says Al Awar. “Reaching somewhere must go through natural experimentation and trial and error. But we are very optimistic.”

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