History of Cement

The history of cement is a relatively short one, but full of immense advancements in the industry that have made the sector the powerhouse that it is today.

In the 18th century, a major initiative began in Europe to understand why some limes possess hydraulic properties. John Smeaton, often referred to as the ‘father of civil engineering’ in England, concentrated his work in this field. He later inspired the research of French engineer, Louis Vicat, who began a study of hydraulic lime in 1812, publishing his findings in Recherches Experimentales sur les Chaux de Construction in 1818. He reported that in the absence of naturally occurring argillaceous components in limestone, quality hydraulic lime could be prepared by the calcination of fixed ratios of clay proportioned with quicklime.

In 1818, an English patent was granted to Maurice Leger after he had improved Vicat’s method of making lime. By 1822, the production of British cement was started by James Frost at Swanscombe, who received a patent for “a new cement or artificial stone.”

The invention of Portland cement is generally credited to Joseph Aspedin, an English Bricklayer in 1824. Production of the material involved double kilning, a process that was first described by Vicat in his research tome. Modern Portland cement, however, would not be seen until 1838, when a young chemical engineer, Isaac Johnson, burned the raw cement material at a high temperature until the mass was nearly vitrified. It was not until 1875 that the establishment of cement standards was proposed by the German chemist Wilhelm Michaelis.

Much like cement, the kiln has undergone several metamorphoses throughout history to become what it is today. The earliest kiln is one of William Aspedin’s bottle variety from the Robins & Aspedin factory in Northfleet. Bottle or dome kilns were the first open kilns that featured a tapered chimney to increase draft. They were burned in a batch rather than continuously, and were charged with alternating layers of raw feed and solid fuel.
The chamber kiln was an improvement on the bottle design developed and patented by Johnson in 1872. The combustion gases from the kiln dried the raw material so that when the kiln is burned out, a new charge of dried material is immediately ready for use.

The time and heat losses resulting from drawing the clinker, recharging the kiln, and then reheating it led to the design of the shaft kiln, which allowed for the continuous burning of the materials. One of the main problems of the new kiln’s operation, however, was the difficulty in sustaining even clinker burning levels, as some of the product would be greatly under-burnt while others became heavily clinkered

In 1898, the Atlas Portland Cement Company improved the design by using what is called a rotary kiln. This adjustment was considered revolutionary in the cement industry at the time because the new kiln could produce 200 cement barrels per day compared to the shaft kiln, which produced only 40 to a maximum of 80 barrels. Additionally, quick advancements in this new design using a mix of fuel (such as natural gas) were carried out to improve mixing and belt conveyors as well as the grinding equipment for raw material and coal.

In practice, using the first generation of rotary kilns (the Ransone kiln) was not easy as a result of the difficulty in maintaining a sufficient and uniform kiln temperature, with excessive balling of raw feed and sticking on the Frederick lining also occurring. By 1899, the Atlas Portland Cement Company improved the technology of the rotary kiln and economized on fuel usage by using powdered coal dust. Further modifications to the kiln were made by adding two auxiliary clinker coolers, in which the first hot discharged clinker was received as it fell from the kiln and air flowing over it was heated, which helped ignite the coal dust in the rotary kiln. The new clinker produced from the advanced technology was different than the old clinker, especially with regards to the setting time, which was now much faster thanks to French chemist Pierre Giron, who added gypsum to the cement.

At the turn of the 20th century, there was rapid growth in both rotary kiln and auxiliary equipment technology in the United States. Coal grinding mills were developed and coal burning in cement kilns became the predominant combustion process in the industry. All equipment related to the cement production crusher, raw mill, belt conveyors and bucked elevators were improved.

As the industry continues to evolve and advance, improvements in cement manufacturing techniques will remain an ongoing process, paving the way for further revolutionary developments for the next 200 years.
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