Understanding reaction mechanisms, kinetics and structural evolution in low-carbon cements

Grantham Scholar Ella Cliff aims to reduce CO2 emissions from concrete through the study of alkali-activated cements. 

The project

Concrete is one of the most commonly used commodities worldwide, second only to water.

The main constituent of concrete is cement, and traditional Portland cement (PC) accounts for approximately 8% of global man-made CO2 emissions, which is expected to increase to 24% by 2050 with the rapid surge in urbanisation.

It is vital that a sustainable alternative to traditional cement is implemented to mitigate the carbon footprint of the concrete industry, and thus, its effect on climate change. A reduction in cement-related CO2 emissions by more than 80% is achievable through the replacement of PC with alkali-activated cements (AACs).

These AACs often utilise industrial by-products as well as naturally occurring alkaline activators, contributing to a relatively low carbon footprint compared to their traditional cement counterparts.

Although promising, the widespread uptake of these low-carbon cements has been impeded by a difficulty in controlling the reaction, setting, and hardening processes that dictate physical performance.

As such, this project will explore how fundamental chemistry affects the structural evolution of alkali-activated slag cements, with the overall aim of reducing the CO2 emissions associated with the concrete industry.

Other interests

Beyond her PhD, Ella is also a keen scientific writer. Currently she works part-time as a Digital Content Officer for IN-PART, whose mission is to simplify the initial connection between academia and industry to maximise research impact.

Keep up with her writing.

Find Ella Cliff on social media

You can connect with Ella on LinkedIn.

And you can find her on Twitter.


Dr Brant Walkley

Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering


Prof. John Provis

Department of Materials Science and Engineering