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Polish Roman Cement
August 2, 2010   
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Engineers from the Cracow-based Department of Glass and Building Materials, part of Warsaw’s Institute of Ceramics and Building Materials, have developed a way to produce a special type of cement in a rotary furnace.

This kind of cement, known as Roman cement, was widely used from the second half of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century to produce plaster and decorative elements for building facades. Today Roman cement is needed for the repair and restoration of old buildings.

The Cracow team responsible for the new technology includes Henryk Szeląg, Albin Garbacik, Grzegorz Adamski, and Andrzej Ronduda. The team carried out the research as part of the European Union’s Roman Cement (RoCem) project, which aims to reestablish manufacture and use of Roman cement.

The RoCem project has attracted chemists, physicists and building conservationists from Britain, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland.

Roman Kozłowski, Ph.D., from the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Catalysis and Surface Chemistry in Cracow, coordinated the work of the Polish researchers.

Helping heritage conservators

Roman cement is a highly hydraulic natural binder made from sedimentary rock. It is durable and impermeable to water, including sea water. The cement used to be produced by burning the rock in shaft furnaces at a temperature of 800-1,200 degrees Celsius and then milling the residue, which hardened when water was added.

“Roman cement was used on a wide scale in the 19th and early 20th centuries and the Art Nouveau period for plastering buildings and various decorative elements such as moldings, lion’s heads and window surrounds,” says Szeląg.

This type of cement was widely used until World War I, then production stopped. Today Roman cement is used by conservators repairing and restoring old buildings. Historic heritage conservation experts have for some time resorted to the use of lime or Portland cement. But these are less durable and permeable, which increases the risk of further damage to the original building.

The Cracow team did not recreate old production methods but developed new technology to produce the cement and chose a rotary rather than a shaft furnace. The furnace resembles a long slanting pipe. Raw material is put in at one end, which slides towards the burner at the other. The residue falls into a cooler. The result is industrial clinker, the engineers say.

This process can be continuous in a rotary furnace but not in a shaft furnace, according to the engineers. Temperature control is also better in a rotary furnace. In this way the team was able to produce cement that is identical to Roman cement in color and properties. Roman cement production technology in shaft furnaces was already getting expensive for our forefathers, and even they had slowly started to introduce rotary furnaces, says Szeląg.

Today the cement is produced at the Department of Glass and Building Materials’ experimental facility in Cracow. The technology is designed to burn argillaceous rock. The volume of cement currently produced meets demand at home and abroad. The facility can produce up to 1,000 metric tons of cement annually and has the means to rapidly increase production threefold, according to the engineers.

The cement’s usage is not limited to the conservation of old buildings. According to the engineers, it can also be used in modern buildings, especially as architects praise its resistance to weather conditions.

The Polish technology has won many awards at home and abroad. Last year it won a medal from the French Association of Inventors and Industrialists at the Concours Lepine Trade Fair in Paris, and a silver medal at the International Warsaw Invention Show (IWIS). The product also won a silver medal at the 9th International Inventions and Innovations Exhibition in Moscow and was singled out for praise at the Genius-Europe International Invention Fair in Budapest, Hungary.
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