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Concrete is a durable building material made from a mixture of cement, coarse & fine aggregates, and water which can be spread or poured into moulds and hardens to form a rock-like mass. Coarse aggregates include gravel or broken stone. The fine aggregate is usually sand. Concrete is used for the construction of many parts of a building such as the foundations, walls, piers, floors, roofs, etc. In modern times, concrete is also used to make transportable pre-cast building products such as blocks, beams, pipes, roof tiles, culverts, etc. The range of building types made of concrete is truly vast. The word concrete comes from the Latin concretus, meaning grown together or compounded.
Mortar is a mixture of cement, sand and water and is used to bond bricks or stones. Mortar is also used as a render on walls for reasons of providing weather resistance or decoration.
Cement is the fine material used to bind the aggregates together and so form the concrete or mortar. The principle building cements are hydraulic cements and to a lesser extent nowadays hydrated lime (also known as lime).
Hydrated lime is the long-established binding material used for centuries and there is evidence of its use near the Danube in Yugoslavia in c.5,600 BC, well before the time of the Romans. Lime concrete was used in some Egyptian pyramids & in Ancient Greece. Hydrated lime is made by burning limestone (Calcium Carbonate, CaCO3) to drive off its carbon dioxide and then slaking the resultant quicklime (Calcium Oxide, CaO) by adding water to form hydrated lime (Calcium Hydroxide, Ca(OH)2). Hydrated lime hardens by absorbing carbon dioxide from the air to re-convert the lime back to a rock-like calcium carbonate. When fully hardened, lime concrete is water-resistant. While the process of absorption of carbon dioxide can be slow, a mortar made of lime & sand will already have developed considerable compressive strength on drying-out due to the cohesive forces resulting from the microscopically small particle size of slaked quicklime. Complete penetration of the mortar by carbon dioxide could prove very difficult in the case of massive structures.
Hydraulic cements are binding materials that harden by reacting with water and give a water-resistant product. Such cements typically consist of Calcium Silicate with lesser amounts of Aluminium Silicate. Hydraulic cements harden by reacting with water to form a mineral glue, which is a colloidal compound of lime, silica, alumina and water. Portland cement is the dominant modern hydraulic cement and is manufactured by burning a mixture of limestone and clay (which contains silica, alumina & iron oxide) in kilns at the very high temperature of around 1450oC. (Note that while burnt gypsum hardens by reacting with water, it cannot resist water over long periods because it is soluble in it and is therefore not a hydraulic cement).
In earlier times, the Romans made hydraulic cements in a cold process by intimately mixing hydrated lime with a reactive silica material and water. The reactive silica material was either a fired clay in the form of finely crushed bricks or in some cases, a naturally occurring weathered volcanic ash such as pozzolana from Pozzuoli. Other examples of natural pozzolanas include Trass from the Eifel Mountains in Germany and Santorin earth from Greece. Note that while the hydraulic cement was made by cold mixing, the hydrated lime had to be produced as usual by burning limestone in a kiln, followed by slaking with water.