The term "cement" originates from the Latin word "Caementum", which signifies chopped stone. Cement describes a binding substance, which will react chemically with water and develop into a material hard as stone. In fibre cement there is a fibre reinforcement, which contributes to making the fibre-cement material even stronger and to better withstand tension. Together with a carefully planned production process, fibre cement makes it possible to develop strong and long-lasting construction materials.
Fibre-reinforced cement-products were invented in the late 19th century by the Austrian Ludwig Hatschek. Principally he mixed 90% cement and 10% asbestos fibres with water and ran it through a cardboard machine. Originally, the fibres were of asbestos and the material was commonly used as siding in house buildings due to its low cost, fire-resistance, water tightness, light weight, and other useful properties. Asbestos is harmful to health and produces lung cancers years after professional or occasional exposure (asbestosis). Starting from the seventies, asbestos use became progressively prohibited; however, in several countries, it is still used for building materials. Safer fibre alternatives, based on e.g. cellulose fibers were developed in the eighties and applied to secure the widely known strength of fibre cement.
In countries where asbestos use has been phased out, fibre cement was among the last remaining asbestos-containing materials on the market. The reason is that the asbestos fibres are intimately bound to the cement matrix and were first considered to be well immobilized in the cement and less prone to be released in the environment, suspended in the air, and inhaled in the lung than in other materials or applications such as thermal insulation or flocking in which bare asbestos fibres were used. However, asbestos fibres are inevitably released during machining operations of the objects made of fibre-cement and by long-term erosion of the materials exposed to atmospheric weathering and wind when cement degrades. Occupational health concerns and the protection of workers in the fibre-cement factories have finally led to the progressive elimination of asbestos from these products. For health reasons, it is recommended that existing fibre-cement products that are in good condition are left undisturbed and possibly encapsulated, to prevent fibre release.
Fibre-cement products have found a wide usage in various sectors of construction: industrial, agricultural, domestic and residential buildings, mainly in roofing and cladding applications, for new constructions and refurbishment projects.