Portland cement is a basic cement mixture and a fundamental ingredient for many common cement applications. Because Portland cement is very common, it is also often called “Ordinary Portland Cement” or simply “OPC.” Since the early 20th century, Portland cement has been used internationally for a wide variety of applications including concrete projects, mortar pastes, stucco decorations, and grout fillings.
“Cement” and “concrete” often have synonymous meaning in casual conversations, strictly defined, however, they mean very different things. Concrete contains cement, but cement does not contain concrete. Cement is the binding agent used to create concretes, mortars, and grouts. Alternatively, rocks, gravels, sands, and water are combined with cement to create the hard, stony masses known as concrete. Portland cement concrete is concrete made with Portland cement as the binding agent.
Modern Portland cement does not mean cement that comes from Portland. Although the original Portland cement was made using stones extracted from Britain’s Portland Isle, the modern use of the term Portland cement is much more general. Today, Portland cement is a term for a standard, generic binding cement.
Think of Portland cement simply as ordinary cement you see used in driveways, commercial buildings, and homes every day.
A Brief History of Portland Cement
Roman cement was the predecessor to ordinary Portland cement. A crude form of Roman cement was rediscovered by English engineer John Smeaton in 1756. The formula for Roman cement was refined and patented in 1796 by James Parker.
Around 1811, James Frost developed British cement: a new way of processing cement that became instrumental in making Portland cement. In 1824, the first form of Portland cement was patented by English cement manufacturer Joseph Aspdin. Aspdin’s version of Portland cement was further refined by his son, William, in 1843, and it closely resembled the ordinary Portland cement we know today.
Isaac Charles Johnson was another English cement manufacturer who competed with William Aspdin for the title of “true Portland cement creator.” However, the exact history revealing who developed it first remains unclear.
The United States imported Portland cement from Germany and England as early as 1868. Between the 1970s and 1980s, the United States began manufacturing their Portland cement in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Within a few years, most of the Portland cement used in the United States was produced locally.
The Ingredients in Portland Cement
What constitutes Portland cement slightly varies depending on the organization that defines it. It is a hydraulic lime cement, meaning water is added to a clinker mixture which solidifies into a water-resistant material. Portland clinker is a combination of raw materials heat treated then ground or pulverized into cement powders. The most common materials used in Portland clinker are limestone, clays, and sands.
Although most of a Portland cement mixture is clinker aggregate (usually 90% by mass), there are also tiny amounts of various admixtures that help control factors like curing time, for example. Calcium sulfate (gypsum) and magnesium oxide are (magnesia) are two examples of admixtures often found in Portland cement mixtures. Other common basic components of Portland cements are alumina, iron, calcium and silica.
Types of Portland Cements
Type 1: the most common type of Portland cement for general applications. Type 1 Portland cement is the standard cement used for many precast and pre-stressed construction projects (for example, buildings, bridges, pavements, and much more). This type has a high mass of Tricalcium silicate and is not recommended for use with projects that rest on soil or in groundwater.
Type 2: another general construction concrete, but moderate resistance to soil and groundwater contact. Because type 2 Portland cement has less Tricalcium aluminate than type 1 cement, it can tolerate more direct contact with soils containing higher levels of sulfate ions, such as those on the Pacific coast in America.
Type 3: the best for cold-weather construction applications. Type 3 Portland Cement sets more quickly than types 1 or 2 because it requires less hydration. This feature is ideal for cold climates because wintry weather reduces atmospheric hydration. Furthermore, the early high-strength of type 3 cement allows for more immediate use after construction projects.
Type 4: used for large/thick concrete structures. Type 4 Portland cement cures slower than types 1-3, therefore generally doesn’t reach maximum strength for a couple of years. However once set, type 4 Portland cement is stronger than types 1-3. Dams once used type 4 Portland cement, for example, but innovations in cement manufacturing now offer better alternatives to type 4 Portland cement.
Type 5: the best sulfate resistance for construction that contacts alkali soil and ground water sulfates. Although type 5 Portland cement is still used around areas near the Pacific, they are becoming less popular because admixtures can be used with ordinary cements with comparable results.
The low cost and widespread availability of the limestone, shales, and other naturally occurring materials used in Portland cement make it one of the lowest-cost materials widely used over the last century throughout the world. Concrete produced from Portland cement is one of the most versatile construction materials available in the world.
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