R&D vital in building materials innovation
30 Oct 2023
While cement and concrete are fundamental building materials that have been in use from as far back as the 1800s, building materials specialist YTL Cement is constantly looking to innovate its products and itself to keep up with the increasing demand for sustainable construction practices.
YTL Cement believes that research and product development are essential in maintaining the right balance between cost, time, and sustainability. Thus, it has set up its Construction Development Lab, a research and development (R&D) centre with state-of-the-art facilities and expertise to meet industry needs.
Construction Development Lab technical director (product), Ir Soo Thong Phor and general manager, Lim Tze Liang talk about the evolution of cement and the industry over the past decades.
How have cement and concrete structures evolved over the years?
Soo: Cement’s earliest recorded use dates back 12,000 years, featuring cement-like variations and whitewashed floors crafted from limestone and clay. Historically, similar mortar was formed with volcanic ash, sticky rice, and lime to sustain the structures of ancient civilisations. We have come far since then, where cement and concrete have found diverse applications.
At present, the cement and concrete industry has evolved tremendously, from the construction of basic building structures to 118-storey skyscrapers. The quality, strength, and performance of cement, which is the basic binder that glues the sand and stones together, have also improved immensely. Likewise, the strength of concrete has evolved from a relatively low strength grade of 20.0MPa (megapascal) to over 100.0MPa.
How many types of cement are there, and what are their functions?
Soo: Essentially, there are six types of common cement in Malaysia, where their basic function is to bind the sand and stones together. However, depending on the strength required, the ease of application, and the size and type of structures, each type of cement is chosen according to the needs of the structures. To date, cement and concrete make up the essential building materials used for the construction of buildings and infrastructure. There is no perfect substitute for cement and concrete.
Cement is commonly distributed in two ways — by bag and bulk. Bag cements are sold in hardware stores to be used for smaller-scale production or general purposes. Meanwhile, bulk cement is specially blended and transported in silos via concrete trucks, suiting larger-scale projects or special construction requirements.
How has the cement manufacturing process evolved over the years?
Soo: The process of cement manufacturing has changed over time, from more conventional energy-intensive wet processes to the current more energy-efficient dry processes. This is mainly due to the strong emphasis on aspects such as energy efficiency, environmental sustainability, and the use of advanced technologies to reduce the industry’s impact on the environment.
Are we seeing changes in demand in terms of cement cost, sustainability, and efficiency from players in the Malaysian construction industry?
Soo: Over the years, the demand of the Malaysian construction industry players for low-cost and sustainable products has increased significantly. Previously, the players only demanded lower-cost products. However, their demand has changed now, especially with new ESG (environmental, social and governance) requirements and awareness of sustainability. They want both low-cost and sustainable products.
In light of this, we have unveiled our ECO Product Range to meet the pressing need of sustainable developments. It consists of ECOCem, ECOConcrete, ECOSand and ECODrymix. These offerings contain lower embodied carbon and recycled materials.
We are currently developing Flocem, a flowable cement, which is highly workable and can be easily placed. Likewise, we have introduced FlowBuild, a flowable concrete, which can also be placed easily, with minimum vibration. This reduces noise pollution as well as the labour required for the placement and compaction of concrete. Both products have distinct advantages, ranging from low-carbon benefits to great workability without the need for additional water, enabling increased productivity and quality in building projects. The high slump allows for easy pouring and placement, resulting in time saved and increased production on site.
As a result, these offerings have met the dynamic needs of the industry to juggle time, cost, and sustainability.
With the new demand, how has the cement raw material sourcing and production process changed?
Soo: The production process has evolved to become increasingly energy efficient. In addition, the cement industry has been maximising the use of alternative raw materials that have a lower carbon footprint and use less energy, while conserving depleting natural raw materials.
What has YTL Cement done to meet the new demand?
Soo: Sustainability has become paramount in today’s business market. As a responsible business, YTL Cement recognises the finite nature of our resources. To address today’s demands and challenges, we’ve established the Construction Development Lab to help industry players re-evaluate their actions, strategies, and objectives. Since then, we have continuously been seeking ways to improve production efficiency and maximise the use of alternative raw materials and fuels, in the production of cement and concrete.
What is the role of YTL Cement’s Construction Development Lab in view of the changing demand for cement’s cost, sustainability, and efficiency?
Lim: The Construction Development Lab is one of the special research facilities dedicated solely to the R&D of innovative cement and concrete products. Our research explores low embodied carbon alternatives in materials and construction methods, addressing customer demand for sustainable, cost-effective products.
We are an R&D facility established to future-proof the construction sector, where we develop bespoke cement and concrete solutions with the goal of reducing the environmental impact of a project and lowering the cost of construction.
Equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and expertise to meet construction challenges, the lab has a team of experienced experts who develop innovative solutions for the construction industry. Our lab has collaborated with six accredited cement labs throughout Peninsular Malaysia, and we also have a network of concrete and aggregate labs to conduct product testing.
We work closely with industry players to understand and meet their needs. Architects, engineers, and customers have been leveraging the team’s experience and expertise to develop innovative solutions for their projects. In the past, we have also collaborated with researchers, institutions of higher education, and government agencies for research and education towards construction excellence.
Please share some references of how YTL Cement’s Construction Development Lab works to innovate and create bespoke products.
Lim: We were involved in the works for Merdeka 118, The Exchange 106, and the Petronas Twin Towers. YTL Cement, through the Construction Development Lab, has been collaborating with industry players to offer high-quality bespoke cement and concrete products, to meet the stringent specifications required. We work with industry players from the specification stage, right through to tendering, trial mix, and the actual construction until the completion stage.
Source: The Edge Malaysia