By now, you probably know that cement is one of the most valuable commodities on earth.
But before cement producers start pouring cement into the world, it’s important to understand a few basic facts.
Invented by humans around 9,000 years ago, cement is made from a mixture of clay and sand, and is extremely difficult to break down.
That means it’s often used as a building material, for insulation, for construction and more.
But cement is also incredibly difficult to process.
According to the United States Geological Survey, cement needs to be processed at temperatures between -140 degrees Fahrenheit (-77 degrees Celsius) and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (73 degrees Celsius).
For comparison, asphalt, a highly porous material, requires temperatures in the range of 50 degrees Fahrenheit and a pressure of just 7.5 pounds per square inch (ppsi).
So what’s so hard about cement?
It’s a hard material to break apart.
“You can break a piece of cement down to about 20,000 parts per million [ppm],” said Paul Kostin, the director of the cement research program at the University of Maryland, College Park.
“So, if you have 10,000 times the density of water, it takes about 3 million times as long to break it down to 10,00 parts per billion.”
Kostin explained that cement breaks down over time as it cools.
This means that the process of breaking down the cement into usable particles takes about four to five months.
Once the concrete has cooled enough, the process can be stopped, and the concrete can be poured back into the ground, he said.
In addition to making concrete, cement also plays an important role in building.
A 2008 study published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters revealed that cement contributes to the formation of “green” carbon dioxide, a gas that can help prevent global warming by trapping heat and keeping it in the atmosphere.
A new study, however, shows that cement can also be used to produce methane gas, a greenhouse gas that could be useful for storing heat.
“We think that cement production is a relatively small contributor to greenhouse gases, and that the contribution is much less than would be the case if the emissions were entirely from the production of cement,” Kostar said.
“We believe that methane could be a more useful store of heat than carbon dioxide for the climate because methane is much more stable in the environment.”
While cement has the potential to help keep global warming from hitting 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, its production could ultimately put the world on track to a hotter world than we’ve ever experienced.
That would likely result in the need for a major infrastructure overhaul to mitigate the impact of global warming on our climate, according to a recent report by the Climate Science Institute.