In the most general sense of the word, a cement is a binder, a substance which sets and hardensindependently, and can bind other materials together. The word “cement” traces to the Romans, who used the term “opus caementicium” to describe masonry which resembled concrete and was made from crushed rock with burnt lime as binder. The volcanic ash and pulverized brick additives which were added to the burnt lime to obtain a hydraulic binder were later referred to as cementum, cimentum, cäment and cement. Cements used in construction are characterized as hydraulic or non-hydraulic.

The most important use of cement is the production of mortar and concrete—the bonding of natural or artificial aggregates to form a strong building material which is durable in the face of normal environmental effects. Concrete should not be confused with cement because the term cement refers only to the dry powder substance used to bind the aggregate materials of concrete. Upon the addition of water and/or additives the cement mixture is referred to as concrete, especially if aggregates have been added.

Early uses of cement

cement2It is uncertain where it was first discovered that a combination of hydrated non-hydraulic lime and a pozzolan produces a hydraulic mixture (see also: Pozzolanic reaction), but concrete made from such mixtures was first used on a large scale by Roman engineers. They used both natural pozzolans (trass or pumice) and artificial pozzolans (ground brick or pottery) in these concretes. Many excellent examples of structures made from these concretes are still standing, notably the huge monolithic dome of the Pantheon in Rome and the massive Baths of Caracalla.

The vast system of Roman aqueducts also made extensive use of hydraulic cement. The use of structural concrete disappeared in medieval Europe, although weak pozzolanic concretes continued to be used as a core fill in stone walls and columns.


Modern cement

Modern hydraulic cements began to be developed from the start of the Industrial Revolution (around 1800), driven by three main needs:

  • Hydraulic renders for finishing brick buildings in wet climates
  • Hydraulic mortars for masonry construction of harbor works etc., in contact with sea water.
  • Development of strong concretes.

Types of modern cement

  • Portland cement
  • Portland cement blends
  • Non-Portland hydraulic cements

Fuels and raw materials

A cement plant consumes 3 to 6 GJ of fuel per tonne of clinker produced, depending on the raw materials and the process used. Most cement kilns today use coal and petroleum coke as primary fuels, and to a lesser extent natural gas and fuel oil. Selected waste and by-products with recoverable calorific value can be used as fuels in a cement kiln, replacing a portion of conventional fossil fuels, like coal, if they meet strict specifications. Selected waste and by-products containing useful minerals such as calcium, silica, alumina, and iron can be used as raw materials in the kiln, replacing raw materials such as clay, shale, and limestone. Because some materials have both useful mineral content and recoverable calorific value, the distinction between alternative fuels and raw materials is not always clear. For example, sewage sludge has a low but significant calorific value, and burns to give ash containing minerals useful in the clinker matrix.

Environmental and social impacts

cement1Cement manufacture causes environmental impacts at all stages of the process. These include emissions of airborne pollution in the form of dust, gases, noise and vibration when operating machinery and during blasting in quarries, and damage to countryside from quarrying. Equipment to reduce dust emissions during quarrying and manufacture of cement is widely used, and equipment to trap and separate exhaust gases are coming into increased use. Environmental protection also includes the re-integration of quarries into the countryside after they have been closed down by returning them to nature or re-cultivating them.