Progress towards sustainability through performance-based standards and specifications

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Department of Materials Science and Engineering


Specifications for cement and other concrete-making materials have been largely prescriptive and have evolved from the user needs for consistent quality and the producer needs for uniform requirements across markets. Performance criteria such as strength requirements or setting time are used in some cases, but specifying other material properties in terms of performance has not been common. By definition, a prescriptive specification has a limited scope and focuses on key characteristics of a narrow range of materials. The result is that prescriptive specifications often provide barriers to use of alternative, more sustainable material combinations and as we work to attain specific sustainability goals, prescriptive specifications often are counter-productive to achieving those goals. Barriers to new materials may stem from the specification limits or the tests used to measure key properties, or both. A prescriptive approach was adequate when the choice of materials was limited, which has been the case historically. However, over the past 50 years, enormous progress has been made in concrete technology permitting combinations of materials that did not exist 50 years ago. Current specifications, however, still reflect the materials used in that bygone era. To address these issues, standard specifications and tests are evolving and industry is moving towards performance-based standards. Examples of these advancements will be discussed along with remaining challenges.

Publication Title

Cement and Concrete Research