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Permeable Concrete – A brief assessment of its benefits and limitations

A wave of innovation in construction materials is emerging, offering promising alternatives to traditional construction practices. One such material that has garnered attention is permeable concrete or pervious concrete. It’s a substance whose properties and benefits can significantly help in the quest to build sustainable and resilient infrastructure.

Concrete’s use is widespread but comes with a fair share of drawbacks. Traditional concrete is impermeable, which hampers the natural movement of water and leads to issues like flooding, water pollution, and strained drainage systems. However, permeable concrete allows water to pass through voids and pores, facilitating efficient water management, reducing runoff, and replenishing groundwater.

Let’s look at the potential of porous concrete as a sustainable alternative to traditionally used concrete, and discuss its advantages, applications, and the promising advancements propelling its adoption in the construction industry.

What is permeable concrete?

Permeable concrete, also known as porous concrete or pervious concrete, is a special type of concrete made from a carefully designed mixture of coarse aggregates, cementitious materials, and water. It does not contain sand or other particles, resulting in a composition that has voids or pores that enable water to flow through.

According to Portland Cement Association (PCA), “Pervious concrete allows 3 to 8 gallons of water per minute to pass through each square foot of the material.”

In the case of impermeable surfaces, stormwater accumulates and creates runoff, which can overwhelm drainage systems and further lead to flooding. However, permeable concrete allows water to percolate through the material. This property makes it an excellent choice for managing stormwater runoff in urban areas and replenishing groundwater.

Using permeable concrete in the construction industry

The adoption of permeable concrete in the construction industry has been gaining momentum. Recently, a USD 16.6 million infrastructure project was completed in New York City using permeable concrete. According to the press release sent to Construction Dive, the project helped rebuild an area damaged by Hurricane Sandy and enables the absorption of approximately 1.3 million gallons of stormwater into the ground.

“Through the course of the project, approximately 1,100 feet of existing storm sewers and 22 catch basins were repaired or replaced, according to the release, and an additional 140 feet of new storm sewers plus three new catch basins were added,” the press release states.

On top of reducing stormwater runoff and recharging groundwater supply, permeable concrete brings other benefits-

  • Improved water quality: As stormwater passes through the porous structure of permeable concrete, pollutants, sediments, and contaminants are filtered out. As harmful substances such as oil, heavy metals, and suspended solids are removed, it results in cleaner groundwater.
  • Reduced heat island effect: Permeable concrete with its higher reflectivity and water infiltration properties helps mitigate heat buildup. Surface temperature is reduced to create a more comfortable microclimate and enhance overall urban livability.
  • Eliminating the need for retention ponds and swales: Permeable concrete acts as a natural stormwater management system. Its porous structure allows water to seep directly into the ground, eliminating the need for large-scale ponds or swales to capture and store excess water. This makes permeable concrete an efficient and space-saving solution for stormwater management.

It does have some limitations though. Permeable concrete cannot be used where there’s a high flow of traffic due to its lower load-bearing capacity. It also requires longer curing time compared to traditional concrete, which can extend project timelines. Furthermore, the lack of standardized testing methods for permeable concrete poses challenges in quality control and consistency across different projects. Its implementation also requires specialized construction practices and expertise. Lastly, timely maintenance is crucial to prevent clogging and ensure optimal performance.

But with time, we can expect further advancements in permeable concrete technology and practices. As more experience and knowledge are gained, we can expect refinements in testing methods and the establishment of industry standards for permeable concrete. Advances in construction techniques and materials will likely lead to improved load-bearing capacity and reduced curing time.

With continued progress, permeable concrete has the potential to become an even more viable and widely adopted solution for sustainable and resilient construction projects.

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