There is a growing interest in the construction sector in the use of sustainable binders as an alternative to ordinary Portland cement, the production of which is highly impacting on the environment, due to high carbon dioxide emissions and energy consumption. Alkali-activated binders, especially those resulting from low-cost industrial by-products, such as coal fly ash or metallurgical slag, represent a sustainable option for cement replacement, though their use is more challenging, due to some technological issues related to workability or curing conditions. This paper presents sustainable alkali-activated mortars cured in room conditions and based on metakaolin, fly ash, and furnace slag (both by-products resulting from local sources) and relevant blends, aiming at their real scale application in the building sector. The effect of binder composition—gradually adjusted taking into consideration technical and environmental aspects (use of industrial by-products in place of natural materials in the view of resources saving)—on the performance (workability, compressive strength) of different mortar formulations, is discussed in detail. Some guidelines for the design of cement-free binders are given, taking into consideration the effect of each investigated alumino-silicate component. The technical feasibility to produce the mortars with standard procedures and equipment, the curing in room conditions, the promising results achieved in terms of workability and mechanical performance (from 20.0 MPa up to 52.0 MPa), confirm the potential of such materials for practical applications (masonry mortars of class M20
). The cement-free binders resulting from this study can be used as reference for the development of mortars and concrete formulations for sustainable building materials production.
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