To understand the origins of Magnesia cement, it seems appropriate to start from the beginning. Some of the first documented instances of the use of magnesium oxide (MgO) cement date back as far as the construction of The Great Wall of China and The Roman Empire: A time when construction was driven by durability, strength and lifetime. Since time immemorial, ancient structures have outlasted the civilizations that built them and remain as their legacy. Within the last century with the development of advanced analytical techniques, we have discovered one of the base components is MgO. Historically, the construction industry had a broad suite of building materials often employed based on geographical availability. The latter half of the 20th century saw a fall off in the scope of materials, and although improvements have been made in some areas, the price of quality has dictated that only the cheapest of materials were produced widely. We like to call this phenomenon CATNAP – Cheapest Available Technology…Narrowly Avoiding Prosecution.
Predominantly the word cement is associated with Portland cement a combination of calcium oxide silicates and alumina silicates produced by calcination at very high temperatures (>1400°C) combined with some sort of aggregate (sand, fly ash, rocks, etc.). The use of MgO-cement has remained a niche market or a historical reference until the last few decades, where a drive for greener and safer technologies has renewed interest in this once ancient material. MgO-cement is produced by calcination at much lower temperatures (>750°C) and has been documented to absorb most of the CO2 produced by calcination throughout its lifetime through carbonation of the highly porous cement. Furthermore, if the MgO is derived from the desalination of concentrated brine lakes (instead of MgCO3, Mg(OH)2 is produced) this cement has been heralded as a carbon negative building material. The production of concrete contributes 5% of all anthropogenic CO2 produced. The scale of the production and consumption of this commodity is second only to fresh water!
Beyond the argument for Mother Nature and the continued positive effect on mitigating global warming massive adoption of this technology would achieve, this cement has many benefits. MgO-cement demonstrates enhanced strength, quicker setting, water-resistance, fireproof and anti-microbial properties, where ordinary cement falls short, making it ideal for high-quality building applications. Broad-scale adoption of this technology is only limited by the roughly 1.2 times cost associated with using it over wood-based products.
When future historians judge us will our structures even remain? Will they remark on the way we decided to build and house our children, supplying the average modern home <3 mins. of protection from the fire before complete destruction. Will our legacy be solutions that were obviously a race to the bottom?