$1.8M NSF Grant for Designing and Controlling Geopolymers Structures

Safa Jamali

MIE Assistant Professor Safa Jamali is leading a $1.8 million NSF DMREF (Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future) grant, in collaboration with Norman Wagner from the University of Delaware, Emanuela Del Gado from Georgetown University, and the Air Force Research Laboratory, to create “Rheostructurally-Informed Neural Networks for Geopolymer Material Design.”

Cement used as a construction material is responsible for ~5% of carbon dioxide emissions globally. This by itself shows how important it is to find viable alternatives to cement as construction materials. On the other hand, enabling 3D printing technologies based on indigenous resources drastically reduces the cost of structural components and constructions. This is of particular interest for extraterrestrial explorations, where ultimately we need to learn how to build with existing materials. Geopolymers are abundant in soil and offer a great set of mechanical properties that can be leveraged towards these goals. However, geopolymer processing is far from trivial, and local geopolymers from each local source will bring different characteristics to the table. Processing cement has taken over a thousand years to mature. In this project, and by integrating state-of-the-art experimentation, detailed simulations, and science-based machine learning algorithms, we will accelerate this process design cycle for 3D printing of structures from local materials.

Abstract Source: NSF

Geopolymers are inorganic and non-crystalline structural materials that can be obtained from natural soils via a chemical activation. They have great potential as additives to reduce cement consumption in construction and thus can help to reduce green-house gas emissions of cement manufacturing. They also promote the adoption of local soil resources for traditional and 3D printing-based construction. Important for human space exploration, geopolymers can be also formed from lunar and Martian soils with limited water, and thus are excellent candidates for space infrastructure such as landing pads and shelters. However, at present processing of geopolymers into desirable structures remains far behind their laboratory scale performance, due to the wide range of chemistries and characteristics of different indigenous geopolymers. This award combines experiments, microscopic simulations, and machine learning approaches that will enable scientists and engineers to effectively design and control geopolymers properties and performances. In collaboration with the Air Force Research Laboratory, the team will educate and train future materials researchers with multi-tool skills that span experiments, simulations, and data-driven algorithms.

Geopolymers are amorphous and porous solid matrices that develop as gels when an alumino-silicate source (typically from clays) reacts with an alkali hydroxide or alkali silicate solution, yielding ceramic-like structures and mechanics. The range of multiscale pore morphologies and material strengths of geopolymer gels makes them ideally versatile and potentially smart binders. However, the primary challenge hindering wide adoption of these sustainable materials is the complexity of controlling property development and processing, given the significant chemical variability that makes their design cycle difficult and empirical. Artificial intelligence approaches are required to bridge the gap between the deep fundamental understanding of a few materials and the need for sustainable processing of a wide range of material resources on earth and other planets with limited experimentation efforts. The team will construct a data-driven platform informed by integrated multiscale modeling and experiments, in order to accelerate the design of processing routes for geopolymers into desirable structures. The PIs will work together to develop rheology-informed neural networks that use the multi-scale and multi-component dynamics of geopolymeric systems under load and in flowing conditions. To do so, they have planned a comprehensive interrogation of experiments and simulations that hierarchically span from the atomistic to macroscale.

This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Related Faculty: Safa Jamali

Related Departments:Mechanical & Industrial Engineering