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Indian Journal of Engineering & Materials Sciences

Vol. 21, April 2014, pp. 227-232

Fly ash based lightweight aggregates incorporating clay binders
P Gomathi & A Sivakumar*
Structural Engineering Division, VIT University, Vellore 632 014, India
Received 7 May 2013; accepted 5 December 2013
This study focuses on the strength characterization of artificial fly ash aggregates produced from a pelletization
process. Additionally, to improve the stability and strength properties of fly ash aggregates clay binders such as bentonite
and metakaolin are added during the production. Physical properties such as specific gravity, bulk density, water absorption,
gradation and individual crushing strength of aggregates are determined. The faster hardening of fresh aggregates is
envisaged with the addition alkali activator in the binder. Fly ash aggregates are then cured in different environmental
conditions such as controlled humidity curing at 40% RH and 35ºC, hot air oven curing at two different temperatures - 50ºC
and 100ºC. Porosity of fly ash aggregates is found to be reduced with the addition of binder material as a result of good
agglomeration with fly ash. Also, the production efficiency of fly ash aggregates is found to be dependent on the binary
blends of fly ash with clay binders and the concentration of alkali activator added to the fly ash. The test results also indicate
that a maximum crushing strength of 17.97 MPa can be obtained in the case of fly ash aggregates subjected to hot air oven
curing at 100ºC.
Keywords: Hot air oven curing, Alkali activator, Fly ash, aggregate, Bentonite, Metakaolin, Geo-polymerization

The demand for the lightweight aggregate in the
production of prefabricated lightweight concrete
structural element proves to be an ideal choice and
future scope for the construction industry. Reduction
in the self weight of the concrete element with high
strength to weight ratio makes it so advantageous to
be used as a structural element1. Lightweight
aggregate concrete is most preferred for constructing
long span structural beam due to reduced bending
stress as a result of reduction in the self weight. The
production of artificial lightweight aggregate is one
ideal choice for disposing safely the industrial waste
materials as well as minimizing environmental
pollution. The porous lightweight aggregate has less
strength and also more deformable as compare to the
normal weight aggregates2. The manufacturing
process of artificial aggregate is carried out by means
of agglomeration method that envisages the formation
of pellets from a powder material with more stable
spherical balls3. Earlier studies were conducted on the
various manufacturing techniques and hardening
process of artificial lightweight aggregate; a disc
pelletizer in which the formation of pellets proceeds
in three paths due to the thumbing force, excluding
the external compaction4. The investigation on the
effect of curing process such as accelerated curing
*Corresponding author (E-mail:

and autoclave curing showed that the autoclave and
accelerated curing techniques provided strength
enhancement of lightweight aggregate5. A high
strength concrete (45 to 75 MPa) can be produced
using cold bonded fly ash aggregate with density of
concrete6 in the range 1600-1950 kg/m3. Improvement
in the strength of cold bonded aggregates is achieved
using sintering process which involves burning at
temperature greater than 1000°C in a muffle furnace7.
The fineness of various binder materials added to
flyash improve the ballability and increase the
efficiency of production8. The porosity of lightweight
aggregate significantly influenced the physical and
mechanical properties of aggregate as well as the
composition of binder material used during the
pelletization process9. It is understood that the
unreacted silica particles exhibited a different
micostructural formation due to different reactivity of
source materials, percentage of nonreactive fillers,
and alkalinity for geo-polymerization reaction10.
Micostructural analysis showed that the final products
are mainly composed of crystalline phase of polymer
fillers which enable the composites with high variable
mechanical properties11. The present study is intended
on the manufacturing of fly ash aggregates and to
evaluate the influence of binder on the strength
properties of pelletized aggregates. Also, the effect of
curing regime on the aggregate strength properties in

The physical and chemical properties of various raw materials used in aggregate production are provided in Table 1.52 800 56.20 2.64 - 2. 1 – Fabricated disc pelletizer machine Results and Discussion Table 1 – Physical properties and chemical analysis of various binders used Observation Fly ash –class F Bentonite Metakaolin 2.84 14.3 1. The pelletization process was carried up to 15 min time duration then followed by air drying.16 Specific gravity Blaine’s fineness (m2/kg) Fig.5 1.4 30.61 2. humidity controlled environment at 40% relative humidity and 35ºC (Fig. APRIL 2014 228 different environmental conditions such as controlled humidity curing at 40% RH at 35ºC. Curing of aggregates was done in different methods namely.85 9. 2).47 2. hot air oven curing at 50ºC and 100ºC up to 7 days (Fig.8 0. Experimental Procedure Materials A low calcium class-F fly ash obtained from Ennore thermal power plant was used as raw material for aggregate production. hot air oven curing at two different temperatures . The efficiency and strength properties of aggregate were evaluated with the addition of binders such as bentonite and metakaolin at 20% and 30% of total binder content. Fig. 3 – Hot air oven curing of fly ash aggregate .88 1.2 25.29 2.73 41. The mix combination for various types of aggregates produced with different fly ash – binder proportions are given in Table 2. 1) with 500 mm diameter of disc and 250 mm depth of pelletizer.54 47.9 0.INDIAN J.8 3.8 6..50ºC and 100ºC were studied.0 0.52 2. The rotating disc was set at an angle 36ºC and speed was optimized at 55 rpm. A disc type pelletizer was fabricated (Fig. SCI.9 18. The water content for pelletization was optimized at 25% of total binder and alkali activator (sodium hydroxide) of molarity 10M (for fly ash – bentonite aggregate) and 12M (for only fly ash aggregate and fly ash – metakaolin aggregate) was used.76 0.06 0. ENG.01 0. 3). MATER.1 400 2.67 1.45 19. 2 – Humidity curing of fly ash aggregate Chemical composition(%) SiO2 Al2O3 Fe2O3 CaO MgO SO3 Na2O K2O Cl¯ Loss on ignition Fig.

86 Fig. alkali activator dosage and duration.55 22. with the increase in the concentration of sodium hydroxide (12M) the size of the pellets was found to be bigger and more cohesive.26 20.23 1062.23 24.31 978. The pelletization efficiency represented in Fig. absorption. The maximum time required for the formation of stable balls was up to 10 min pelletization duration and for the remaining 5 min the pellets were compacted due to the compaction forces.41 1226. The saturated specific gravity of fly ash (1.67 23.05 983.GOMATHI & SIVAKUMAR: FLY ASH BASED LIGHTWEIGHT AGGREGATES 229 Table 2 – Mix combination for various types of fly ash lightweight aggregate Mix type F3-RH 20B2-RH 30MT3-RH F3-50 20B2-50 30MT3-50 F3-100 20B2-100 30MT3-100 Aggregate curing at various temperature Fly ash Binder content (%) Bentonite Metakaolin 100 80 70 100 80 70 100 80 70 0 20 0 0 20 0 0 20 0 0 0 30 0 0 30 0 0 30 NaOH (molarity) 40% relative humidity and 35ºC 40% relative humidity and 35ºC 40% relative humidity and 35ºC Hot air oven at 50ºC Hot air oven at 50ºC Hot air oven at 50ºC Hot air oven at100ºC Hot air oven at 100ºC Hot air oven at 100ºC Pelletization efficiency of fly ash aggregate formation Efficiency of aggregate production depends on the amount of raw fly ash converted to fly ash balls during agglomeration of moist fly ash particles in a pelletization process. The physical characterization test results of various fly ash lightweight aggregate is provided in Table 3.95) and metakaolin aggregate (1. SSD Loose bulk Rodded bulk Water density.12 1235.23 986. The experimental test results on water absorption of various types of fly ash lightweight aggregate are shown in Fig.61 2610. kg/m3 kg/m3 % 2.39 17. The increase in micro structural formation due to higher compaction 12 10 12 12 10 12 12 10 12 Table 3 – Physical properties of various fly ash aggregates produced Aggregate mix proportion Natural aggregate F3-RH 20B2-RH 30MT3-RH F3-50 20B2-50 30MT3-50 F3-100 20B2-100 30MT3-100 Specific gravity. 4 shows that it is dependent on the type of binder and concentration of sodium hydroxide.22 21.04 2813.13 1135.77 21.80 1035. The efficiency of production was increased when fly ash was mixed with metakaolin binder which can be seen in Fig.00 1.18 1126.75 1.06 976.81 1.87 19. density. 5. compared to fly ash–binder combinations the addition of binder exhibited a considerable reduction.09 1228. It is realized that the efficiency during fly ash aggregate production depends on the binder content.26 16.45 993. However. The maximum pelletization efficiency was obtained with the addition of bentonite at 20% by weight of fly ash along with sodium hydroxide solution at 10M.06 1.93 1. It can be noted that water absorption of all types of aggregates showed higher porosity and thereby considerable increase in water ingress.01 1026.75) aggregate was observed to be lower than the bentonite aggregate (1.95 1. However. 4 – Efficiency of pellet production for various types of fly ash aggregates (15 min duration) Fig.99 1.98 1.85 1.29 1012.34 949. The efficiency of pellet production depends on the type of binder used in the fly ash aggregate.80). 4.05 1128.21 1052.87 1. 5 – Water absorption of various types of fly ash aggregate containing binder .68 848. The bulk density of lightweight aggregate was found to be varying for the different curing process and an increasing trend was noticed for higher oven curing temperature at 100ºC.

ENG. Also.67 17. 7.51 2.01 8.93 4.22 MPa was recorded for fly ash – bentonite aggregate at 1 day curing (100ºC hot air oven curing) compared to other aggregate (Table 5). of pellets taken from each aggregate type Fig.37 10.64 Fig.bentonite aggregates (Fig 6). 11. It is also understood that the higher compaction force during pelletization and fineness of binder particles provide a closer granular packing of aggregates.03 10.49 4.75 % of passing Type of aggregate BT2 100. 6 – Gradation of various types of fly ash aggregates Table 5 – Individual crushing strength of various types of fly ash aggregates Type of aggregate F3-RH 30M 3-RH 20B 2-RH F3-50 30M 3-50 20B 2-50 F3-100 30M 3-100 20B 2-100 Maximum crushing strength of fly ash lightweight aggregate at 7 day curing (MPa) 6 mm 8 mm 10 mm 12 mm 3.22 2. MATER. SCI. This resulted in lesser water absorption in the case of fly-bentonite aggregates. P is the failure load and X is the distance between the two plate of the pellet13.36 4. Table 4 –Sieve analysis of fly ash lightweight aggregate IS Sieve size. that a maximum crushing strength of 17.67 9. It can be noted from Table 5.28% of aggregates were passing through 10 mm sieve in the case of fly ash mixed metakaolin binder.00 90.39% for 20BT2-100) as compared to room temperature curing (22. a total of 30 numbers of pellets from each aggregate types were tested using the strength index formula given as: Individial crushing strength of pellet = 2.00 10.denotes particular size of aggregate not available. To arrive at a more reliable estimate. The crushing strength of individual pellets and the strength gain at various ages of curing with different curing regimes are shown in Figs 8-10. the water absorption of aggregates cured at 100ºC hot air oven showed reduction in water absorption (16.72 3.71 3.69 3.metakaolin aggregate at 100ºC hot air oven curing.metakaolin binder (30M3-100) reported an improved crushing strength at 100ºC hot air oven curing as compared to other curing temperatures which can be seen in Fig.96 MT3 100.62 14. 7 – Crushing strength of pellet tested using CBR testing machine . mm F3 20 10 4.62 5.00 100.27 12.33 3.31 11.28 7.81 8. Strength properties of fly ash aggregate The crushing strength of spherical fly ash aggregates were evaluated in a CBR testing machine shown in Fig. This value was reported to be higher than compared to fly ash.00 64. It can be noted that different size ranges of aggregates were formed and achieved almost a uniform spherical shape.36 0.22% of 20BT2-RT).39 7. The sieve analysis results showed that a maximum of 64. A highest crushing strength of 10.40 4. The particle size distribution as determined using IS: 238612 for various lightweight aggregates is given in Table 4. APRIL 2014 230 forces leads to reduced porosity and this could be possibly due to fineness of bentonite and metakaolin material compared to fly ash aggregates. The fly ash.50 6. The crushing strength of 30 different types of aggregates was found for various sizes of individual aggregate particles.97 MPa (28 day strength) was obtained for fly ash .8* P π* X 2 …(1) Where. results denote the average of 30 nos.57 Note: ..INDIAN J.06 10.

This denoted that the hardening process of alkali treated fly ash aggregates was originally due to geo-polymerization. curing temperature.g. Whereas. 10 – Individual crushing strength of fly ash lightweight aggregate using metakaolin binder with different curing temperatures (6 mm size of pellet) Fig. Test results confirmed that alkali-activated fly ash aggregate kept in oven curing reported a maximum strength gain compared to control humidity curing. It is also understood that polymerization is effective at high temperature provided in oven curing. although. alkali activator concentration. the alkali-activated fly ash kept in controlled humidity curing at lower temperature (50ºC) does not exhibit spontaneous chemical reaction between the silicates and aluminates. This essentially exhibited from all the experimental test results that the alkali activated fly ash geo-polymer aggregates were sensitive for hot oven curing. Geo-polymerization is the type of chemical reaction which is more active at high temperature than the normal temperature for the reaction of silico-aluminates. 11 – Crushing strength of individual fly ash aggregate for various curing regimes 231 Similarly fly ash-bentonite aggregates at 10M sodium hydroxide showed a maximum strength of 14. weeks) to finish completely. (ii) Addition of alkali activator (sodium hydroxide) during pelletization of aggregate provides a more stable formation of pellets as well as increases the early strength gain properties. The experimental trends given in Figs 9 and 10 confirm that geo-polymerization is more active at early ages of high temperature curing and attains the maximum strength within 7 days and there after no increase in strength was anticipated. The formation of geo-polymerization is a continuous chain reaction occurring between occurring silicates and aluminates in fly ash which are more reactive in the presence of the activator and further leads to the formation of polysialates (Si-O-Al). in most cases. Since the activation energy is not appreciable at normal air drying or at low temperature humidity curing. Conclusions The following conclusions are drawn from this study: (i) The pelletization efficiency and strength of fly ash aggregates increase with the addition of clay binders such as bentonite and metakaolin. the geopolymers will gain major strength in the first few hours/days. 8 – Maximum crushing strength of individual fly ash lightweight aggregate without binder Fig.. The geopolymerization of aluminosilicate materials generally contains multiple steps and takes long time (e.GOMATHI & SIVAKUMAR: FLY ASH BASED LIGHTWEIGHT AGGREGATES Fig. It is understood that the completion time of geopolymerization depends on many factors such as reactivity of raw materials.51 MPa with optimum pelletization duration of 15 min. . 9 – Individual crushing strength of fly ash lightweight aggregate using bentonite binder with different curing temperatures (6 mm size of pellet) Fig.

23 (2009) 2821-2828. 12 IS: 2386 part I. Constr Build Mater. Jie Y.18 MPa for fly ash-bentonite aggregates (20BT2-100) at 28 days curing. 3 Baykal G & Doven A G.. ENG. Cem Concr Compos. 6 Costa Hugo. Cem Concr Compos. 42 (2007) 3025-3029. The experimental test results also showed that a maximum crushing strength of 17. Constr Build Mater. The experimental results demonstrated the potential advantages of fly ash based aggregates and can prove to be an ideal choice for complete replacement of natural aggregates in concrete production. MATER. 17.62 MPa was obtained for fly ash-metakaolin aggregates (30MT3-100). Yu Y & Zhang G.39%) as compared to other two types of curing. 10 He J.232 (iii) (iv) (v) (vi) (vii) INDIAN J. The bulk density of fly ash-metakaolin aggregate was found to be lower (848. Beaucour A L. 11 He J. 9 Swamy R N & Lambert G H. 2 Ke Y. Build Environ. J Hazard Mater. 28 (2006) 33-38. 179 (2010) 954-965. particle shape and size.02 MPa for fly ash aggregates (F3-100) and 15. Zhang J. Int J Cem Compos Lightweight Concr. Ortola S. 30 (2012) 80-91. Int J Cem Compos Lightweight Concr.41 kg/m3) at 100ºC hot air oven curing and also resulted in maximum production efficiency. APRIL 2014 The influence of various curing process indicated the rate of strength development and an appreciable increase was noted in the case of hot air oven curing at 100ºC. 30 (2000) 59-77. Conserv Recycling. Cem Concr Compos. 43 (2008) 31-36. Dumontet H & Cabrillac R. 5 Manikandan R & Ramamurthy K. Method of test for aggregates for concrete. (1963). . Build Environ. Zhang J. This can considerably lead to the reduction in self weight of the structure and cost of concrete production. SCI. Tang W C & Cui H Z. Yu Y & Zhang G. 4 Bijen J M J M. 37(1) (2013) 108-118. 35 (2012) 84-91. 3(4) (1981) 271-282. Eduardo J & Jorge L. References 1 Mouli M & Khelafi H. 7 Tommy Y Lo. 8 Ramamurthy K & Harikrishnan K I. Constr Build Mater. The water absorption of fly ash aggregates mixed with bentonite binder cured at 100ºC oven curing showed lower water absorption (16. 8(3) (1986) 191-199. 30 (2008) 848-853. 13 Kockal N U & Ozturan T.