Concrete solidifies and hardens after mixing and placement due to a chemical process known as hydration. The water reacts with the cement, which bonds the other components together, eventually creating a stone-like material. It is used to make pavements, architectural structures, foundations, motorways/roads, overpasses, parking structures, brick/block walls and footings for gates, fences and poles.
Concrete is used more than any other manmade material on the planet. As of 2005 about six billion cubic metres of concrete are made each year, which equals one cubic meter for every person on Earth. Concrete powers a US $35 billion industry which employs over two million workers in the United States alone. Over 55,000 miles of freeways and highways in America are made of this material. The People's Republic of China currently consumes 40% of world cement [concrete] production.
In Serbia, remains of a hut dating from 5600 BCE have been found, with a floor made of red lime, sand, and gravel. The pyramids of Shaanxi in China, built thousands of years ago, contain a mixture of lime and volcanic ash or clay.
The Assyrians and Babylonians used clay as cement in their concrete. The Egyptians used lime and gypsum cement. In the Roman Empire, concrete made from quicklime, pozzolana and an aggregate made from pumice was very similar to modern Portland cement concrete. The discovery of concrete was lost for 13 centuries until in 1756, when the British engineer John Smeaton pioneered the use of Portland cement in concrete, using pebbles and powdered brick as aggregate.
The composition of concrete is determined initially during mixing and finally during placing of fresh concrete. The type of structure being built as well as the method of construction determine how the concrete is placed and therefore the composition of the concrete mix (the mix design).
Portland cement is the most common type of cement in general usage. It is a basic ingredient of concrete, mortar and plaster. English engineer Joseph Aspdin patented Portland cement in 1824; it was named because of its similarity in colour to Portland limestone, quarried from the English Isle of Portland and used extensively in London architecture. Portland cement consists of a mixture of oxides of calcium, silicon and aluminium. Portland cement and similar materials are made by heating limestone (a source of calcium) with clay, and grinding this product (called clinker) with a source of sulfate (most commonly gypsum). When mixed with water, the resulting powder will become a hydrated solid over time.
High temperature applications, such as masonry ovens and the like, generally require the use of a refractory cement; concretes based on Portland cement can be damaged or destroyed by elevated temperatures.
Potable water can be used for manufacturing concrete. The w/c ratio (mass ratio of water to cement) is the key factor that determines the strength of concrete. A lower w/c ratio will yield a concrete which is stronger and more durable, while a higher w/c ratio yields a concrete with a larger slump, so it may be placed more easily. Cement paste is the material formed by combination of water and cementitious materials; that part of the concrete which is not aggregate or reinforcing. The workability or consistency is affected by the water content, the amount of cement paste in the overall mix and the physical characteristics (maximum size, shape, and grading) of the aggregates.
The water and cement paste hardens and develops strength over time. In order to ensure an economical and practical solution, both fine and coarse aggregates are utilised to make up the bulk of the concrete mixture. Sand, natural gravel and crushed stone are mainly used for this purpose. However, it is increasingly common for recycled aggregates (from construction, demolition and excavation waste) to be used as partial replacements of natural aggregates, whilst a number of manufactured aggregates, including air-cooled blast furnace slag and bottom ash are also permitted.
Decorative stones such as quartzite, small river stones or crushed glass are sometimes added to the surface of concrete for a decorative "exposed aggregate" finish, popular among landscape designers.
Chemical admixtures are materials in the form of powder or fluids that are added to the concrete to give it certain characteristics not obtainable with plain concrete mixes. In normal use, admixture dosages are less than 5% by mass of cement, and are added to the concrete at the time of batching/mixing. The most common types of admixtures are:
- Accelerators speed up the hydration (hardening) of the concrete.
- Retarders slow the hydration of concrete, and are used in large or difficult pours where partial setting before the pour is complete is undesirable.
- Air-entrainers add and distribute tiny air bubbles in the concrete, which will reduce damage during freeze-thaw cycles thereby increasing the concrete's durability.
- Plasticizers (water-reducing admixtures) increase the workability of plastic or "fresh" concrete, allowing it be placed more easily, with less consolidating effort.
- Superplasticizers (high-range water-reducing admixtures) are a class of plasticizers which have fewer deleterious effects when used to significantly increase workability. Alternatively, plasticizers can be used to reduce the water content of a concrete (and have been called water reducers due to this application) while maintaining workability. This improves its strength and durability characteristics.
- Pigments can be used to change the color of concrete, for aesthetics.
- Corrosion inhibitors are used to minimize the corrosion of steel and steel bars in concrete.
- Bonding agents are used to create a bond between old and new concrete.
- Pumping aids improve pumpability, thicken the paste, and reduce dewatering of the paste.
Mineral admixtures and blended cements
There are inorganic materials that also have pozzolanic or latent hydraulic properties. These very fine-grained materials are added to the concrete mix to improve the properties of concrete (mineral admixtures), or as a replacement for Portland cement (blended cements).
- Fly ash: A by product of coal fired electric generating plants, it is used to partially replace Portland cement (by up to 60% by mass). The properties of fly ash depend on the type of coal burnt. In general, silicious fly ash is pozzolanic, while calcareous fly ash has latent hydraulic properties.
- Ground granulated blast furnace slag (GGBFS or GGBS): A by product of steel production, is used to partially replace Portland cement (by up to 80% by mass). It has latent hydraulic properties.
- Silica fume: A byproduct of the production of silicon and ferrosilicon alloys. Silica fume is similar to fly ash, but has a particle size 100 times smaller. This results in a higher surface to volume ratio and a much faster pozzolanic reaction. Silica fume is used to increase strength and durability of concrete, but generally requires the use of superplasticizers for workability.
Short fibres of steel, glass, synthetic or natural materials can be incorporated in the concrete during mixing. See Fibre reinforced concrete.
Thorough mixing is essential for the production of uniform, high quality concrete. Therefore, equipment and methods should be capable of effectively mixing concrete materials containing the largest specified aggregate to produce uniform mixtures of the lowest slump practical for the work. Separate paste mixing has shown that the mixing of cement and water into a paste before combining these materials with aggregates can increase the compressive strength of the resulting concrete. The paste is generally mixed in a high-speed, shear-type mixer at a w/cm of 0.30 to 0.45 by mass. The premixed paste is then blended with aggregates and any remaining batch water, and final mixing is completed in conventional concrete mixing equipment.
High-Energy Mixed Concrete (HEM concrete) is produced by means of high-speed mixing of cement, water and sand with net specific energy consumption at least 5 kilojoules per kilogram of the mix. It is then added an plasticizer admixture and mixed after that with aggregates in conventional mixer. This paste can be used itself or foamed (expanded) for lightweight concrete. Sand effectively dissipates energy in this mixing process. HEM concrete fast hardens in ordinary and low temperature conditions, and possesses increased volume of gel, drastically reducing capillarity in solid and porous materials. It is recommended for precast concrete in order to reduce quantity of cement, as well as concrete roof and siding tiles, paving stones and lightweight concrete block production.
Tools for concrete work
During hydration and hardening, concrete needs to develop certain physical and chemical properties. Among other qualities, mechanical strength, low moisture permeability, and chemical and volumetric stability are necessary.
Workability (or consistence, as it is known in Europe) is the ability of a fresh (plastic) concrete mix to fill the form / mould properly with the desired work (vibration) and without reducing the concrete's quality. Workability depends on water content, aggregate (shape and size distribution), cementitious content and age (level of hydration), and can be modified by adding chemical admixtures. Raising the water content or adding chemical admixtures will increase concrete workability. Excessive water will lead to increased bleeding (surface water) and/or segregation of aggregates (when the cement and aggregates start to separate), with the resulting concrete having reduced quality. The use of an aggregate with an undesirable gradation can result in a very harsh mix design with a very low slump, which cannot be readily made more workable by addition of reasonable amounts of water.
Workability can be measured by the "slump test", a simplistic measure of the plasticity of a fresh batch of concrete following the ASTM C 143 or EN 12350-2 test standards. Slump is normally measured by filling an "Abrams cone" with a sample from a fresh batch of concrete. The cone is placed with the wide end down onto a level, non-absorptive surface. When the cone is carefully lifted off, the enclosed material will slump a certain amount due to gravity. A relatively dry sample will slump very little, having a slump value of one or two inches (25 or 50 mm). A relatively wet concrete sample may slump as much as six or seven inches (150 to 175 mm).
Slump can be increased by adding chemical admixtures such as mid-range or high-range water reducing agents (super-plasticizers) without changing the water/cement ratio. It is bad practice to add extra water at the concrete mixer.
High-flow concrete, like self-consolidating concrete, is tested by other flow-measuring methods. One of these methods includes placing the cone on the narrow end and observing how the mix flows through the cone while it is gradually lifted.
Because the cement requires time to fully hydrate before it acquires strength and hardness, concrete must be cured once it has been placed. Curing is the process of keeping concrete under a specific environmental condition until hydration is relatively complete. Good curing is typically considered to provide a moist environment and control temperature. A moist environment promotes hydration, since increased hydration lowers permeability and increases strength resulting in a higher quality material. Allowing the concrete surface to dry out excessively can result in tensile stresses which the still-hydrating interior cannot withstand, causing the concrete to crack.
The amount of heat generated by the exothermic chemical process of hydration can be problematic for very large placements. Allowing the concrete to freeze in cold climates before the curing is complete will interrupt the hydration process, reducing the concrete strength and leading to scaling and other damage or failure.
The effects of curing are primarily a function of geometry (the relation between exposed surface area and volume), the permeability of the concrete, curing time, and curing history.
Concrete has relatively high compressive strength, but significantly lower tensile strength (about 10% of the compressive strength). As a result, concrete always fails from tensile stresses — even when loaded in compression. The practical implication of this is that concrete elements subjected to tensile stresses must be reinforced. Concrete is most often constructed with the addition of steel or fiber reinforcement. The reinforcement can be by bars (rebar), mesh, or fibres, producing reinforced concrete. Concrete can also be prestressed (reducing tensile stress) using internal steel cables (tendons), allowing for beams or slabs with a longer span than is practical with reinforced concrete alone.
The ultimate strength of concrete is influenced by the water-cement ratio (w/c) [water-cementitious materials ratio (w/cm)], the design constituents, and the mixing, placement and curing methods employed. All things being equal, concrete with a lower water-cement (cementitious) ratio makes a stronger concrete than a higher ratio. The total quantity of cementitious materials (Portland cement, slag cement, pozzolans) can affect strength, water demand, shrinkage, abrasion resistance and density. As concrete is a liquid which hydrates to a solid, plastic shrinkage cracks can occur soon after placement; but if the evaporation rate is high, they often can occur during finishing operations (for example in hot weather or a breezy day). Aggregate interlock and steel reinforcement in structural members often negates the effects of plastic shrinkage cracks, rendering them aesthetic in nature. Properly tooled control joints or saw cuts in slabs provide a plane of weakness so that cracks occur unseen inside the joint, making a nice aesthetic presentation. In very high strength concrete mixtures (greater than 10,000 psi), the strength of the aggregate can be a limiting factor to the ultimate compressive strength. In lean concretes (with a high water-cement ratio) the use of coarse aggregate with a round shape may reduce aggregate interlock.
Experimentation with various mix designs begins by specifying desired "workability" as defined by a given slump, durability requirements, and the required 28 day compressive strength. The characteristics of the cementitious content, coarse and fine aggregates, and chemical admixtures determine the water demand of the mix in order to achieve the desired workability. The 28 day compressive strength is obtained by determination of the correct amount of cementitious to achieve the required water-cement ratio. Only with very high strength concrete does the strength and shape of the coarse aggregate become critical in determining ultimate compressive strength.
Wired.com reported on April 13th, 2007, that a team from the University of Tehran, competing in a contest sponsored by the American Concrete Institute, demonstrated several blocks of concretes with abnormally high compressive strengths between 50,000 and 60,000 PSI at 28 days . The blocks appeared to use an aggregate of steel fibres and quartz -- a mineral with a compressive strength of 160,000 PSI, much higher than typical high-strength aggregates such as granite (15,000-20,000 PSI).
The modulus of elasticity of concrete is a function of the modulus of elasticity of the aggregates and the cement matrix and their relative proportions. The modulus of elasticity of concrete is relatively linear at low stress levels but becomes increasing non-linear as matrix cracking develops. The elastic modulus of the hardened paste may be in the order of 10-30 GPa and aggregates about 45 to 85 GPa. The concrete composite is then in the range of 30 to 50 GPa.
Expansion and shrinkage
Concrete has a very low coefficient of thermal expansion. However if no provision is made for expansion very large forces can be created, causing cracks in parts of the structure not capable of withstanding the force or the repeated cycles of expansion and contraction.
As concrete matures it continues to shrink, due to the ongoing reaction taking place in the material, although the rate of shrinkage falls relatively quickly and keeps reducing over time (for all practical purposes concrete is usually considered to not shrink any further after 30 years). The relative shrinkage and expansion of concrete and brickwork require careful accommodation when the two forms of construction interface.
Concrete cracks due to tensile stress induced by shrinkage or by applied loading. Engineers are familiar with the tendency of concrete to crack, and where appropriate, special design precautions are taken to ensure crack control. This entails the incorporation of secondary reinforcing, for example deformed steel bars, placed at the desired spacing to limit the crack width to an acceptable level. Water retaining structures and concrete highways are examples of structures where crack control is exercised. The objective is to encourage a large number of very small cracks, rather than a small number of large, randomly-occurring cracks.
All concrete structures will crack to some extent. One of the early designers of reinforced concrete, Robert Maillart, employed reinforced concrete in a number of arched bridges. His first bridge was very simple, using a large volume of concrete, and Maillart noticed that large areas of the structure were very cracked. He then realised that if the concrete was very cracked, it must not be contributing to the strength of the structure - but yet the structure clearly worked. Therefore, his later designs simply removed the cracked areas, leading to slender, beautiful concrete arches. The Salginatobel Bridge is an example of this.
Cracking is also a primary indicator of structural distress in reinforced concrete elements. For example, a properly designed reinforced concrete beam failing as a result of overloading will exhibit a pronounced increase in the number and width of cracks. This can allow remediation, repair, or if necessary, evacuation of an unsafe area.
Shrinkage cracks occur when concrete members undergo restrained volumetric changes (shrinkage) as a result of either drying, autogenous shrinkage, or thermal effects. Restraint is provided either externally (i.e. supports, walls, and other boundary conditions) or internally (differential drying shrinkage, reinforcement). Once the tensile strength of the concrete is exceeded, a crack will develop. the number and width of shrinkage cracks that develop are influenced by the amount of shrinkage that occurs, the amount of restraint present, and the amount and spacing of reinforcement provided.
Concrete is placed while in a wet (or plastic) state, and therefore can be manipulated and moulded as needed. Hydration and hardening of concrete during the first three days is critical. Abnormally fast drying and shrinkage due to factors such as evaporation from wind during placement may lead to increased tensile stresses at a time when it has not yet gained significant strength, resulting in greater shrinkage cracking. The early strength of the concrete can be increased by keeping it damp for a longer period during the curing process. Minimizing stress prior to curing minimizes cracking. High early-strength concrete is designed to hydrate faster, often by increased use of cement, which increases shrinkage and cracking.
Plastic-shrinkage cracks are immediately apparent, visible within 0 to 2 days of placement, while drying-shrinkage cracks develop over time. Precautions such as mixture selection and joint spacing can be taken to encourage cracks to occur within an aesthetic joint instead of randomly.
Concrete members may be put into tension by applied loads. This is most common in concrete beams, where a transversely applied load will put one surface into compression and the opposite surface into tension (due to induced bending). The portion of the beam that is in tension may crack - the size and length of cracks is dependent on the magnitude of the bending moment and the design of the reinforcing in the beam at the point under consideration. Reinforced concrete beams are designed to crack in tension rather than in compression. This is achieved by providing reinforcing steel which yields before failure of the concrete in compression occurs and in so doing provides a warning mechanism.
Creep is the term used to describe the permanent movement or deformation of a material in order to relieve stresses within the material. Concrete which is subjected to forces is prone to creep. Creep can sometimes reduce the amount of cracking that occurs in a concrete structure or element, but it also must be controlled. The amount of primary and secondary reinforcing in concrete structures contributes to a reduction in the amount of shrinkage, creep and cracking.
Up to about 300 °C, the concrete undergoes normal thermal expansion. Above that temperature, shrinkage occurs due to water loss; however, the aggregate continues expanding, which causes internal stresses. Up to about 500 °C, the major structural changes are carbonation and coarsening of pores. At 573 °C, quartz undergoes rapid expansion due to phase change, and at 900 °C calcite starts shrinking due to decomposition. At 450-550 °C the cement hydrate decomposes, yielding calcium oxide. Calcium carbonate decomposes at about 600 °C. Rehydration of the calcium oxide on cooling of the structure causes expansion, which can cause damage to material which withstood fire without falling apart. Concrete in buildings that experienced a fire and were left standing for several years shows extensive degree of carbonation.
Concrete exposed to up to 100 °C is normally considered as healthy. The parts of a concrete structure that is exposed to temperatures above approximately 300 °C (dependent of water/cement ratio) will most likely get a pink color. Over approximately 600 °C the concrete will turn light grey, and over approximately 1000 °C it turns yellow-brown One rule of the thumb is to consider all pink colored concrete as damaged, and to be removed.
Fire will expose the concrete to gasses and liquids that can be harmful to the concrete, among other salts and acids the occur when fire-gasses get in contact with water.
Various types of aggregate undergo chemical reactions in concrete, leading to damaging expansive phenomena. The most common are those containing reactive silica, that can react (in the presence of water) with the alkalis in concrete (K2O and Na2O, coming principally from cement). Among these: Opal, Chalcedony, Flint and strained Quartz. Following the reaction (Alkali Silica Reaction or ASR), an expansive gel forms, that creates extensive cracks and damage on structural members. On the surface of concrete pavements the ASR can cause Pop-outs, i.e. the expulsion of small cones (up to 3 cm about in diameter) in correspondence of aggregate particles. When some aggregates containing dolomite are used, a dedolomitization reaction occurs where the magnesium carbonate compound reacts with hydroxyl ions and yields magnesium hydroxide and a carbonate ion. The resulting expansion may cause destruction of the material. Far less common are Pop-outs caused by the presence of Pyrite, an Iron Sulfide that generates expansion by forming Iron oxide and Ettringite. Other reactions and recrystallizations, e.g. hydration of clay minerals in some aggregates, may lead to destructive expansion as well.
Sea water effects
Concrete exposed to sea water is susceptible to its corrosive effects. The effects are more pronounced above the tidal zone than where the concrete is permanently submerged. In the submerged zone, magnesium and hydrogen carbonate ions precipitate about 30 micrometers thick layer of brucite on which a slower deposition of calcium carbonate as aragonite occurs. These layers somewhat protect the concrete from other processes, which include attack by magnesium, chloride and sulfate ions and carbonation. Above the water surface, mechanical damage may occur by erosion by waves themselves or sand and gravel they carry, and by crystallization of salts from water soaking into the concrete pores and then drying up. Pozzolanic cements and cements using more than 60% of slag as aggregate are more resistant to sea water than pure Portland cement.
Bacteria themselves do not have noticeable effect on concrete. However, anaerobic bacteria in untreated sewage tend to produce hydrogen sulfide, which is then oxidized by aerobic bacteria present in biofilm on the concrete surface above the water level to sulfuric acid which dissolves the carbonates in the cured cement and causes strength loss. Concrete floors lying on ground containing pyrite are also at risk. Using limestone as the aggregate makes the concrete more resistant to acids, and the sewage may be pretreated by ways increasing pH or oxidizing or precipitating the sulphides in order to inhibit the activity of sulphide utilizing bacteria.
Chlorides, particularly calcium chloride, have been used to shorten the setting time of concrete. However, calcium chloride and (to a lesser extent) sodium chloride have been shown to leach calcium hydroxide and cause chemical changes in Portland cement, leading to loss of strength, as well as attacking the steel reinforcement present in most concrete.
Sulphates in solution in contact with concrete can cause chemical changes to the cement, which can cause significant microstructural effects leading to the weakening of the cement binder.
Types of concrete
Various types of concrete have been developed for specialist application and have become known by these names.
Regular concrete is the lay term describing concrete that is produced by following the mixing instructions that are commonly published on packets of cement, typically using sand or other common material as the aggregate, and often mixed in improvised containers. This concrete can be produced to yield a varying strength from about 10 MPa to about 40 MPa, depending on the purpose, ranging from blinding to structural concrete respectively. Many types of pre-mixed concrete are available which include powdered cement mixed with an aggregate, needing only water.
High-strength concrete has a compressive strength generally greater than 6,000 pounds/square inch (40 MPa). High-strength concrete is made by lowering the water-cement (w/c) ratio to 0.35 or lower. Often silica fume is added to prevent the formation of free calcium hydroxide crystals in the cement matrix, which might reduce the strength at the cement-aggregate bond.
Low w/c ratios and the use of silica fume make concrete mixes significantly less workable, which is particularly likely to be a problem in high-strength concrete applications where dense rebar cages are likely to be used. To compensate for the reduced workability, superplasticizers are commonly added to high-strength mixtures. Aggregate must be selected carefully for high-strength mixes, as weaker aggregates may not be strong enough to resist the loads imposed on the concrete and cause failure to start in the aggregate rather than in the matrix or at a void, as normally occurs in regular concrete.
In some applications of high-strength concrete the design criterion is the elastic modulus rather than the ultimate compressive strength.
High-performance concrete (HPC) is a relatively new term used to describe concrete that conforms to a set of standards above those of the most common applications, but not limited to strength. While all high-strength concrete is also high-performance, not all high-performance concrete is high-strength. Some examples of such standards currently used in relation to HPC are:
- Ease of placement
- Compaction without segregation
- Early age strength
- Long-term mechanical properties
- Heat of hydration
- Volume stability
- Long life in severe environments
During the 1980s a number of countries including Japan, Sweden and France developed concretes that are self-compacting, known as self-consolidating concrete in the United States. These self-compacting concretes (SCCs) are characterized by:
- extreme fluidity as measured by flow, typically between 700-750 mm, rather than slump
- no need for vibrators to compact the concrete
- placement is simpler
- no bleed water, or aggregate segregation
- no need for a viscosity modifying agent (VMA)
As of 2005, self-compacting concretes account for 10-15% of concrete sales in some European countries. In the US precast concrete industry, SCC represents over 75% of concrete production. 38 departments of transportation in the US accept the use of SCC for road and bridge projects.
This emerging technology is made possible by the use of polycarboxylates instead of older "high-range water reducers", and viscosity modifiers to address aggregate segregation.
Shotcrete uses compressed air to shoot (cast) concrete onto (or into) a frame or structure. Shotcrete is frequently used against vertical soil or rock surfaces, as it eliminates the need for formwork. It is sometimes used for rock support, especially in tunnelling. Today there are two application methods for shotcrete: the dry-mix and the wet-mix procedure. In dry-mix the dry mixture of cement and aggregates is filled into the machine and conveyed with compressed air through the hoses. The water needed for the hydration is added at the nozzle. In wet-mix, the mixes are prepared with all necessary water for hydration. The mixes are pumped through the hoses. At the nozzle compressed air is added for spraying. For both methods additives such as accelerators and fiber reinforcement may be used.
The term Gunite is occasionally used for shotcrete, but properly refers only to dry-mix shotcrete, and once was a proprietary name.
Pervious concrete is sometimes specified by engineers and architects when porosity is required to allow some air movement or to facilitate the drainage and flow of water through structures. Pervious concrete is referred to as "no fines" concrete because it is manufactured by leaving out the sand or "fine aggregate". A pervious concrete mixture contains little or no sand (fines), creating a substantial void content. Using sufficient paste to coat and bind the aggregate particles together creates a system of highly permeable, interconnected voids that drains quickly. Typically, between 15% and 25% voids are achieved in the hardened concrete, and flow rates for water through pervious concrete are typically around 480 in./hr (0.34 cm/s, which is 5 gal/ft²/ min or 200 L/m²/min), although they can be much higher. Both the low mortar content and high porosity also reduce strength compared to conventional concrete mixtures, but sufficient strength for many applications is readily achieved.
Pervious concrete pavement is a unique and effective means to address important environmental issues and support sustainable growth. By capturing rainwater and allowing it to seep into the ground, porous concrete is instrumental in recharging groundwater, reducing stormwater runoff, and meeting US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stormwater regulations. The use of pervious concrete is among the Best Management Practices (BMPs) recommended by the EPA, and by other agencies and geotechnical engineers across the country, for the management of stormwater runoff on a regional and local basis. This pavement technology creates more efficient land use by eliminating the need for retention ponds, swales, and other stormwater management devices. In doing so, pervious concrete has the ability to lower overall project costs on a first-cost basis.
Aerated concrete produced by the addition of an air entraining agent to the concrete (or a lightweight aggregate like vermiculite ) is sometimes called Cellular concrete. See also aerated autoclaved concrete.
Roller-compacted concrete, sometimes called rollcrete, is a low-cement-content stiff concrete placed using techniques borrowed from earthmoving and paving work. The concrete is placed on the surface to be covered, and is compacted in place using large heavy rollers typically used in earthwork. The concrete mix achieves a high density and cures over time into a strong monolithic block. Roller-compacted concrete is typically used for concrete pavement, but has also been used to build concrete dams, as the low cement content causes less heat to be generated while curing than typical for conventionally placed massive concrete pours.
The use of recycled glass as aggregate in concrete has become popular in modern times, with large scale research being carried out at Columbia University in New York. This greatly enhances the aesthetic appeal of the concrete.
Engineers usually specify the required compressive strength of concrete, which is normally given as the 28 day compressive strength in megapascals (MPa) or pounds per square inch (psi). Twenty eight days is a long wait to determine if desired strengths are going to be obtained, so three-day and seven-day strengths can be useful to predict the ultimate 28-day compressive strength of the concrete. A 25% strength gain between 7 and 28 days is often observed with 100% OPC (ordinary Portland cement) mixtures, and up to 40% strength gain can be realized with the inclusion of pozzolans and supplementary cementitious materials (SCM's) such as fly ash and/or slag cement. As strength gain depends on the type of mixture, its constituents, the use of standard curing, proper testing and care of cylinders in transport, etc. it becomes imperative to proactively rely on testing the fundamental properties of concrete in its fresh, plastic state.
Concrete is typically sampled while being placed, with testing protocols requiring that test samples be cured under laboratory conditions (standard cured). Additional samples may be field cured (non-standard) for the purpose of early 'stripping' strengths, that is, form removal, evaluation of curing, etc. but the standard cured cylinders comprise acceptance criteria. Concrete tests can measure the "plastic" (unhydrated) properties of concrete prior to, and during placement. As these properties affect the hardened compressive strength and durability of concrete (resistance to freeze-thaw) , the properties of slump (workability), temperature, density and age are monitored to ensure the production and placement of 'quality' concrete. Tests are performed per ASTM International or CSA (Canadian Standards Association) and European methods and practices. Technicians performing concrete tests MUST be certified. Structural design and material properties are often specified in accordance with ACI International code (www.concrete.org) under the "prescription" or "performance" purchasing options per ASTM C94 (www.astm.org).
Compressive strength tests are conducted using an instrumented hydraulic ram to compress a cylindrical or cubic sample to failure. Tensile strength tests are conducted either by three-point bending of a prismatic beam specimen or by compression along the sides of a cylindrical specimen.
When structures made of concrete are to be demolished, concrete recycling is a common method of disposing of the rubble. Concrete debris was once routinely shipped to landfills for disposal, but recycling has a number of benefits that have made it a more attractive alternative due to improved environmental awareness, governmental laws, and economic benefits.
Pieces of concrete collected from demolition sites are put through a crushing machine, often along with asphalt, bricks, and rocks. Crushing facilities accept only uncontaminated concrete, which must be free of trash, wood, paper and other such materials. Metals such as rebar are accepted, since they can be removed with magnets and other sorting devices and melted down for recycling elsewhere. The remaining aggregate chunks are sorted by size. Larger chunks may go through the crusher again. Smaller pieces of concrete are used as gravel for new construction projects. Aggregate base gravel is laid down as the lowest layer in a road, with fresh concrete or asphalt placed over it. Crushed recycled concrete can sometimes be used as the dry aggregate for brand new concrete if it is free of contaminants, though the use of recycled concrete limits the strength, and is not allowed in many jurisdictions.
Use of concrete in structures
Mass concrete structures
Mass concrete is concrete placed without reinforcement. Due to the lack of reinforcement, the concrete is relatively weak in tension, and therefore mass concrete structures typically rely on gravity to maintain their integrity. Mass concrete structures include gravity dams such as the Hoover Dam and the Three Gorges Dam and large breakwaters.
Reinforced concrete structures
Reinforced concrete contains steel reinforcing (rebar) that is designed and placed in structural members at specific positions to provide additional tensile strength in the structural members, to resist tension and bending. Most concrete structures are built from reinforced concrete.
Prestressed concrete structures
Reinforced concrete structures are normally very heavy and they have to be designed to carry their own weight as well as the superimposed design loads. The high compressive forces found in concrete columns present few problems, but the tensile stresses found in slabs and beams present design challenges to engineers. Prestressed concrete provides a way to overcome the combined tensile stresses, due to own weight and design loads in beams and slabs, by introducing a compressive stress in the structural element prior to the superimposed design loads coming into play. The net effect in a properly designed prestressed structural element is a stress condition that satisfies the stress limits in the concrete for both compression and tension.
The prestressing is achieved by utilising steel tendons or bars that are subjected to a tensile force prior to casting the concrete, in pre-tensioned concrete, or after the concrete has cured, in post-tensioned concrete.
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