The coming concrete crisis



POSTED BY Ed (2 mths ago)
Vince Beiser is author of the The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization, which was published this month and from which this essay is adapted.

You may not realize it, but as you read this, you are probably surrounded by the most important artificial material ever invented. Is there a floor beneath you, walls around, a roof overhead? Chances are excellent they are made at least partly out of this astonishingly underappreciated material: concrete.

To most people, concrete is just the ugly stuff used to pave paradise and put up a parking lot. But concrete is an invention as transformative as fire or electricity. Since it came into widespread use around the turn of the 20th century, this man-made stone has changed where and how billions of people live, work and move around. It is the skeleton of almost every apartment block and shopping mall, and of most of the roads connecting them. It gives us the power to dam enormous rivers, erect buildings of Olympian height and travel the world with an ease that would astonish our ancestors.

For all its blessings, however, concrete incurs serious costs to people and the planet – and those costs are mounting exponentially.

Concrete is essentially just sand and gravel glued together with cement. It is also by far the most widely used building material on Earth. We consume twice as much of it every year as steel, aluminum, plastic and wood combined. That’s because cities are exploding, especially in the developing world, as people leave the countryside for a shot at a better life in the metropolis. The number of urban dwellers is rising by about 65 million people annually, according to the United Nations Population Division. That’s the equivalent of adding eight New Yorks – or 22 Torontos – to the planet every single year.

There’s no way cities could grow this fast without concrete. It’s an almost magically cheap, easy way to quickly create roads, bridges, dams and housing for huge numbers of people. An estimated 70 per cent of the world’s population now lives in structures made at least partly out of concrete.

Many of the world’s concrete structures are already slowly disintegrating. Concrete failure may be one of the reasons for last week’s catastrophic bridge collapse in Genoa, Italy. In the United States, according to the Federal Highway Administration, nearly one-quarter of all bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The American Society of Civil Engineers declares that one-fifth of all the country’s highways and one-third of urban roads are in “poor” condition. Canada is in considerably better shape, but billions of dollars worth of roads and bridges here are also in “poor” or worse condition.

Worldwide, as much as 100 billion tons of poorly manufactured concrete structures – buildings, roads, bridges, dams, everything – may need to be replaced in the coming decades, at a collective cost of trillions of dollars.

To make matters worse, we’re running out of one of concrete’s essential ingredients: sand.

Our planet contains enormous amounts of sand, of course, but the usable type – found mostly in riverbeds, floodplains and beaches – is a finite resource like any other. (Desert sand, eroded by wind rather than water, is generally too round to use for construction.) Humans consume nearly 50 billion tonnes of sand and gravel every year, enough to blanket the entire state of California. Most of that is used to make concrete.



feignefu888 (2 mths ago)
Well I did some research and found some mining companies which might have lots to sell after drilling near riverbeds. This canadian company is patenting interesting concepts
and for the rest, well there are some raw providers here

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