Obituary Professor John Bensted

Materials World magazine
13 Jan 2020


In recent years John Bensted was struck by dementia. His physical condition deteriorated and he passed away on Tuesday 12th November. John’s achievements and contributions to the oil & gas, construction and chemical industries were remarkable. John made an exceptional and outstanding contribution to cement science, spanning some 45 years and covering a broad range of disciplines including expert witness work, academic study, civil engineering and the oil industry. The strength of John’s problem solving and technical skills were attributed to him having a multidisciplinary expertise and able to transfer ideas and knowledge from one area to another. He was very passionate about the history of his own profession and believed in truth and justice. He used his sense of humour and infectious wit to convey ideas kindly and compassionately to both the young and seasoned practitioners. I shall remember John for his humour, capacity to converse in a wide variety of issues and be generous with his time.

John’s publications and other written work, more than 500 peer-reviewed research-related technical papers, over 100 conference presentations at home and abroad, have been very well received and earned him international respect in the scientific, engineering and oil communities.  John’s lectures and presentations were held in equally high regard.  John’s propensity for learning several languages and his genuine interest in people and their cultures had enabled him to make many friends worldwide. This undoubtedly assisted his business work whilst representing Blue Circle Industries, 1967 – 1984, and BP International Ltd, 1985-1992, as well as the United Kingdom as a member of international learned bodies and societies. In essence, he had consistently combined his knowledge with enthusiasm and intellectual rigour to make many significant impacts on the scientific and business communities; all of which have benefited society.

At Blue Circle, John undertook on R&D, especially for cement workability, technical troubleshooting, technical training of overseas works/production/technical managers and the quality control of all stages of the cement manufacturing process, as well as usage of all types of cement and cement-based products, plus lime, gypsum, bricks, plaster and cement admixtures. He also dealt with technical problems of aggregates, mortars and concretes and lectured periodically on cement technology training courses.

He identified thaumasite sulphate attack, previously unknown in Europe, in the internal walls of some newly built houses at Stoke-on-Trent (UK) in February 1969 and established for the first time how this type of sulphate attack could arise. He also developed a special hydrophobic cement in 1982 for a UK Ministry of Defence contract on the building of the then new Mount Pleasant Airport and military installations on the Falkland Islands following the end of hostilities there.

John served on British Standards committees on cement admixtures and cement paints and the SCI Construction Materials Group as Programme Secretary (1980-1982) and as Secretary (1982-1984), plus the American Petroleum Institute (API) Task Group on Eastern Hemisphere Well Cementing (1982-1984). He was awarded the AITEC Medallion (1978) by the technico-economic organisation of the Italian cement industry for his research work on cements and instrumental applications and the DSc degree of the University of London (1981) for published technical works on cement chemistry. This was a unique achievement for someone working in industry.

At BP he conducted multifaceted work at senior management level involved direction of R&D in well cementing, technical troubleshooting and quality assurance/control procedures. Success in new challenges like cementing slimhole, horizontal and multilateral wells, use of novel materials to lower costs and improve technical efficiency. Internal consultant to BP businesses (Exploration, Oil, Chemicals, Nutrition) worldwide and services on cement and concrete problems and the use of speciality chemicals for oilfield and construction applications. Regular business trips for BP to the United States, Brazil, Venezuela, Western Europe and the former Soviet Union. High level technical liaisons with Petrobras (Brazil) and Intevep (Venezuela), aiding business development and contributing towards the success of BP Exploration and BP Chemicals in particular. Technical adviser to BP Chemicals marketing delegation to the former Soviet Union, in connection with high performance chemicals for the oil and construction industries. Site visits with BP Nutrition to solve field problems, like whether silage additives affected farm concrete quality, and durability of farm concrete. He also became an industrial research supervisor for BP sponsored university research in well cementing and liaisons with higher education establishments at home and abroad.

His active work with societies included; calcium aluminate (high alumina) cement as Secretary of the UK Concrete Society Working Party (1993-1997), which reported how and where it could be safely employed in future construction; Committee Member of the new Working Party for the UK Concrete Society Technical Report on Analytical Methods; UK Institute of Concrete Technology to produce a ‘Milestone Paper’ for their Yearbook 2003-2004 entitled ‘The Development and Usage of High Alumina Cement’.

In the UK-based Society of Chemical Industry (SCI) Construction Materials Group Committee (Chairman 1996-1998, 2008+ and Vice-Chairman 2006-2007) and the London Regional Group Committee (2006+ in association with the UCL Chemistry and Physics Society), he gave entertaining and informed talks London Regional Group on the history of cement and concrete from 9000 BC to the present day and on asbestos (history, properties and problems). He was a recipient of the SCI Distinguished Service Award in 2002. Also, on 12 January 2010 he received notification that he had been awarded the SCI Lampitt Medal for 2010, which is the highest award that the SCI can offer, for his services to industrial chemistry. He was active within the Concrete Society (organiser for their London & South East Region meetings on high alumina cement (2003), hydrophobic cements (2004), Sorel and related cements (2006), non-binders like thaumasite that cause sulphate attack on concrete). In addition, for the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, he helped to organise the 1999 and 2002 International Cement and Concrete Science Meetings at Keele and Greenwich Universities respectively.

He was actively involved in International, European and British standardisation, 1990 onwards, and served on numerous British Standards committees as the SCI Representative, involving cement and concrete (including admixtures) for the construction and oil & gas industries.

In academia he had directed cement and concrete based research projects using modern high tech instrumentation. Giving internal and external seminars as appropriate on the scientific and engineering properties of cement. Liaising with leading industrial and academic scientists connected with both construction activity and also with oilfield exploration and production. Periodically acting as PhD examiner for research students and occasionally as DSc examiner for academics and senior industrial researchers.

John made many valuable contributions in academia. He was visiting Professor in Cement Science at the School of Crystallography, Birkbeck College (University of London) 1997-2004, with some ongoing work involving high alumina cement for industrial purposes. One of John’s many achievements were being a co-editor and author of the book ‘Structure and Performance of Cements’ which has been translated to Chinese. This pleased him as he would have a challenge to learn Chinese! Moving to the Materials Chemistry Centre in UCL in October 2004 and also the Centre for CO2 Technology, Department of Chemical Engineering UCL in March 2007. Since January 2007, he was visiting Professor based at the School of Engineering, University of Greenwich. He was formerly a visiting Professor at Keele University (Birchall Centre for Inorganic Chemistry and Materials Science) 1996-2000 regarding oilwell cement and construction cement projects, which led to a special patented high tensile strength cement.

John’s pursuits have been of economic and strategic significance, enabling the enhancement of construction infrastructure such as buildings and bridges, as well as the successful cementing of oil-wells for the production of oil and gas, especially in regions of the world previously thought inaccessible. John’s direction of industrial research for BP included the sponsorship of university research in higher education establishments both at home and abroad.  The leadership and guidance he provided enabled BP to make many practical advances, which have proved to be very profitable for their commercial operations.  His approachable and down to earth personality enabled him to communicate complex scientific issues to a diverse audience, including his peers, PhD students and the general public.  His current interest is in ‘green chemistry’ and this has the potential to improve the environment and contribute to the economic success of numerous UK industries.

John’s multidisciplinary expertise combined with his lateral thinking and trouble shooting skills  enabled him to make numerous valuable contributions to the construction and oil industries.  He had been increasingly involved as a technical expert witness for litigation cases involving cement and concrete problems worldwide, reflecting his substantial international experience in this field. The extraordinary contributions which John has made specifically to cement science and, more generally, to the wider society throughout his working career have been outstanding over many years.

John was a devoted father and husband. He enjoyed spending time with his family by walking holidays. He had an interest in steam railways and football.

John Bensted, chemist, scientist and engineer: born: 2th March 1942 at Erith, Kent, U.K., At Woolwich Polytechnic, University of London; BSc Special Chemistry (1964), PhD in Coordination and Analytical Chemistry (1968); DSc in Cement Chemistry, University of London, March 1981; Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (1977); Fellow of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (1979); SCI Distinguished Service Award in 2002; SCI Lampitt Medal for 2010; Chartered Scientist (2004); Chartered Chemist (1977), Chartered Engineer (1994) and SCImem (2011); married 1976 Josephine Marian (two sons Jonny and Roland and daughter-in-law Jiyeon); died London 12th November 2019.