A cement is a binder, a substance used for construction that sets, hardens, and adheres to other materials to bind them together. Cement is seldom used on its own, but rather to bind sand and gravel (aggregate) together. Cement mixed with fine aggregate produces mortar for masonry, or with sand and gravel, produces concrete. Concrete is the most widely used material in existence and is only behind water as the planet's most-consumed resource.
Cements used in construction are usually inorganic, often lime or calcium silicatebased, which can be characterized as non-hydraulic or hydraulic respectively, depending on the ability of the cement to set in the presence of water (see hydraulic and non-hydraulic lime plaster).
Non-hydraulic cement does not set in wet conditions or under water. Rather, it sets as it dries and reacts with carbon dioxide in the air. It is resistant to attack by chemicals after setting.
Hydraulic cements (e.g., Portland cement) set and become adhesive due to a chemical reaction between the dry ingredients and water. The chemical reaction results in mineral hydrates that are not very water-soluble and so are quite durable in water and safe from chemical attack. This allows setting in wet conditions or under water and further protects the hardened material from chemical attack. The chemical process for hydraulic cement was found by ancient Romans who used volcanic ash (pozzolana) with added lime (calcium oxide).
The word "cement" can be traced back to the Roman term opus caementicium, used to describe masonry resembling modern concrete that was made from crushed rock with burnt lime as binder. The volcanic ash and pulverized brick supplements that were added to the burnt lime, to obtain a hydraulic binder, were later referred to as cementum, cimentum, cäment, and cement. In modern times, organic polymers are sometimes used as cements in concrete.
If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world with up to 2.8bn tonnes, surpassed only by China and the US.