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What's the Difference Between Concrete and Cement? - Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Those of us in the concrete production and cement distribution businesses are accustomed to hearing a few terms thrown around.

Many of our customers are in charge of site selection and building industrial facilities, so they know that "concrete” and "cement” are not interchangeable terms for the same product.

Do you know the difference? Learn a few things about concrete and cement. You’ll be able to speak the language of contractors and construction pros, and you’ll know exactly what materials you need for your projects.

Cement

Cement can be used on a smaller scale where concrete would be far less functional. An example would be when it’s used to bind bricks together or lay tiles on the floor. Cement starts as a fine uniform powder made up of limestone, calcium, silicon, iron and other minerals. That mixture is superheated into clinkers— they look a bit like marbles—then they are crushed and gypsum is added.

When it’s ready to be used, water is added to this fine cement powder. Water triggers a chemical reaction that activates the powder and makes it the viscous form of the familiar binding agent. While water is also added to concrete (cement is the binding agent in concrete), the water part is crucial to cement and is why products like cement slurry work.

Portland Cement

By far the most common type of cement is Portland cement (that’s right–it’s not a brand). It was developed in the eighteenth century by Joseph Aspdin, and remains an old standby even today. Aspdin discovered it by adding clay to limestone and superheating the mixture.

Like most cements in wide use today, Portland cement is hydraulic (meaning that it uses water), and can set anywhere. The triggering of the chemical reaction by water isn’t affected by the amount of water in it. That makes it possible for Portland cement (or OPC, original Portland cement, as it is sometimes called) to even harden under water.

Concrete

In contrast to the uniformity of cement, concrete is an aggregate mixture that generally includes 10-15% cement, though the amount of cement in any given concrete will vary based on the type of concrete being made. Like with cement, water triggers a chemical reaction that begins the setting process.

With concrete, the cement binds together crushed stone, rock, and sand. Quality in the aggregate, which forms 60-80% of concrete, is important, and can determine the overall quality of the concrete. Good aggregate has a combination of rock sizes and the stones won’t include any clays or materials that can absorb water.

The quality and quantity of the aggregate can also influence the price of the concrete, as aggregate is less expensive than cement.

Additionally, concrete can be laid into molds to create large blocks and slabs, making it perfect for use in the construction of skyscrapers, dams and arenas, among more familiar uses like sidewalks.

How well does it work for massive constructions? China’s Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest concrete structure, is built with over 16 million cubic meters of concrete. The tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, is also made of concrete, standing 2,722 feet tall.

While there are obvious similarities between concrete and cement, the differences are important, and they each have their own place in the world of construction.

With a little bit of guidance, it quickly becomes easier for a confused customer to learn and become a certified pro.

Tell Angelle about your project today, whether it’s cement for site stabilization or colored concrete for commercial construction. With plants across the greater Baton Rouge area, we’re ready to work with you today.


 

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