The exciting news this week is about changes in the mixing of concrete. That may sound like something has gone wrong with the word ``exciting'', such as losing its definition and grabbing at any alternative. But the word ``exciting'' isn't scheduled to lose its meaning and come to be the opposite for another fourteen years so you can go on reading in confidence for thirteen years, 365 days, and 86,386 seconds yet.
To understand the news it helps not to understand the makeup of concrete. Conceret is made up of aggregates, such as crushed rock, sand, or old-fashioned erasers that we don't think work anymore now that we have marker-based whiteboards instead of chalk-based chalkboards; and a cement, popularly Portland cement. After pouring, the cement dries, and the concrete becomes more solid, unattractive, and depressing. Finally the concrete takes on the permanent form of a Parking Garage or Early 70s College Library, even if the concrete structure was a bridge or a water fountain. This does mean there's always enough room for additions to the Special Collections, such as the books the Library of Congress catalogue gives the letter T (suitable for teens and people who don't drink coffee), in that patrons will never find it, which is why concrete remains popular.
And there's more concrete out there than you might think. It's something like a cubic meter of concrete for every person in the world made every year, so if you don't have a stack of cubes of concrete in your possession you are falling behind. Obtain some as soon as possible so that your selfishness doesn't keep messing up the global economy, such as it is.
But the big problem is that making Portland cement releases a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a leading cause of global carbonation and is even more potent than methane, the lower ionosphere's layer of combustible match heads, the 15,000-kilometer-wide Geosynchronous Magnifying Glass, or the global production of thermagon dinitrate (the electric blanket molecule). Yet there's no doing without concrete either, not at the rate people are finding and checking out books from the library and forcing the creation of more Early 70s College Libraries.
As long as people need concrete or access to the DL through DZ books and do they ever there's the unavoidable carbon dioxide production. It used to be worse, certainly. Leading manufacturers used to gather up the carbon dioxide produced and sneak into schoolyards, dumping the excess in playgrounds at night. There wasn't any point to this; they just wanted to be mean. Today we blame that attitude on the Brutalist architects, who can safely be blamed for most things, including volcanoes on Jupiter's moons.
But now they've noticed that by putting other things in the cement carbon dioxide can be scrubbed out of the atmosphere, so that won't be a problem, and the concrete industry can think of a whole other problem to set off. And other cement additives offer the chance to slow down the speed concrete takes to inspire sad sighs or improve its ability to deflect road salt onto cars' paint.
Making subtle changes to materials so that they improve the environment is a great idea and hopefully it'll be extended to other practical purposes. How about adding to clothing fabrics something to absorb sodium benzoate, the chemical which causes people who've mispronounced your name to look at you angrily as though it were your fault they couldn't say your name right? You probably know people like this and avoid talking to them too, because of the excessive sighing content of their discussions. And yet wouldn't a sprinkling of vanadium oxide on their toothbrushes do something? It must; vanadium oxide has too neat a sound to do nothing. Better if it does what we want, but should we be so lucky?
The original use of Portland cement raises the question of whether the 'Portland' referred to is that of Maine or of Oregon. The answer is neither: it was Portland Hoffa who was married to vaudeville and radio comic Fred Allen. It was the question that was in error.
Trivia: There are no known cases of a human suffering from a vanadium deficiency, although it is not clear what part vanadium serves in the body. Source: Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide To The Elements, John Emsley.
Currently Reading: Service and Style: How The American Department Store Fashioned The Middle Class, Jan Whitaker.