Facebook Parent Company Finds New Concrete Mixtures Using Artificial Intelligence
In collaboration with researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Facebook's parent company, Meta has developed a new Artificial Intelligence (AI) model that optimises concrete mixtures for sustainability and strength.
Last year, Meta achieved net-zero in their operations. Now, they're turning their attention to achieving net-zero across their value chain by the end of 2030. The way they aim to do this is definitely in their special way- by using new technological processes to speed up the process.
AI is used to learn and optimise specific outcomes within high dimensional spaces, where data sets with many attributes can be modelled. When a valid data set is available, AI can be used to estimate or “learn” the feasible high-dimensional space in terms of relevant parameters, such as strength and sustainability. To develop this type of model, Meta aquired the work of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, including AI expert Prof. Lav Varshney from the electrical and computer engineering department, and concrete expert Prof. Nishant Garg from the civil engineering department.
Using the input data on concrete formulas along with their corresponding compressive strength and carbon footprint, the AI model was able to generate several promising new concrete mixes that could meet Meta's stated data centre requirements with a lower embodied carbon impact than the industry standard.
Meta released in a recent post that "With AI, we were able to accelerate the discovery process and validate good formulas within weeks. In this effort, the low-carbon concrete formulas generated by the model entailed significant replacement of cement (upwards of 70%) with a combination of two types of low-carbon substitutes, namely fly ash and slag," they said. After a process of elimination, the final mix was chosen and immediatly headed for practical testing.
After the final formula was tested in a controlled lab environment, Meta agreed to test the mix on multiple (noncritical) structures, which included using the mix in their DeKalb data centre, where it can now be found in the guardhouse floor slab and the floor slab of the construction management team’s temporary office space building. "This refined concrete formula entailed upwards of 50% cement replacement with a combination of fly ash and slag," Meta stated, showing their commitment to developing practical solutions.
The company tested the formula at a data centre near Chicago.
The field tests confirmed that the resulting low-emission concrete formula exceeded the seven-day and 28-day strength requirements found in industry standard requirements, with a carbon impact 40% lower than the regional benchmark. However, to enable faster, more efficient construction required for Meta's priorities, they explained the concrete needs to meet specific strength thresholds earlier than seven days.
With the help of this AI model, Meta has been able to successfully design and use concrete that meets their long-term strength requirements and has a 40% lower carbon impact than the regional benchmark. But they are just getting started. "While we are encouraged by the success of this pilot, further developments and tests are needed to scale the impact of this innovation. This includes a few factors:
First, we need to understand and optimize the performance of the mixes under different weather conditions, such as the cold weather in Illinois. Each data centre location has unique attributes that must be accounted for in the design and testing of concrete. There are also improvements to be made to optimize for early strength gain (i.e., to have it set faster) to accommodate a tighter construction schedule. There is an opportunity to directly optimize for such logistical considerations. Finally, there is a need to understand how novel materials could be used in place of cement in concrete, particularly as the supply of traditional cement substitutes like fly ash and slag is projected to decrease in the long run. Material availability is an important factor in construction; identifying novel materials that could be used in concrete can open new opportunities. Additionally, novel materials can further enhance the strength and sustainability of new concrete formulas," they said.
The resulting concrete mixes from Meta's model can be used outside of data centre construction, and there is an opportunity to further develop this model to address other use cases. In efforts to find the best solution, Meta plans to continue researching and developing concrete mixes whilst also looking into how building design can help lower emissions.