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Construction and Building Materials 111 (2016) 600610

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Construction and Building Materials


journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/conbuildmat

Fresh properties, mechanical strength and microstructure of fly ash


geopolymer paste reinforced with sawdust
Ping Duan a,b,c,, Chunjie Yan a,b,c,, Wei Zhou a, Wenjun Luo a
a

Faculty of Materials Science and Chemistry, China University of Geosciences, Wuhan 430074, China
Engineering Research Center of Nano-Geomaterials of Ministry of Education, China University of Geosciences, Wuhan 430074, China
c
Zhejiang Research Institute, China University of Geosciences, Hangzhou 311305, China
b

h i g h l i g h t s
 A geopolymer is proposed based on fly ash blended with sawdust.
 Relationships between flow, setting time, density and sawdust content are observed.
 Sawdust is beneficial for the resistance to cracking and drying shrinkage.
 Sawdust exhibits positive effect on compressive and flexural strength after 28 days.
 Sawdust addition leads to the formation of an optimal microstructure.

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 5 October 2015
Received in revised form 5 January 2016
Accepted 17 February 2016
Available online 21 March 2016
Keywords:
Geopolymer
Fly ash
Sawdust
Strength
Pore structure

a b s t r a c t
This work aims to verify the feasibility of utilizing sawdust in geopolymer to make reinforced composites
and broaden application of sawdust in geopolymer. Fresh properties including workability and setting
time, density, nailing ability, drying shrinkage, mechanical strength and microstructure of fly ash
geopolymer activated by sodium silicate and sodium hydroxide solutions blended with 020% of sawdust
by mass with an interval of 5% were investigated.
The experimental results uncover that sawdust addition influences the workability of geopolymer. The
sawdust content is inversely proportional to the setting time and a good linear relation is found between
density and sawdust content. Sawdust is beneficial for the resistance to cracking and drying shrinkage
especially the later ages. Sawdust exhibits little effect on compressive strength before 14 days of curing
and it possesses positive effect after 28 days. 5% of sawdust addition exhibits little effect on flexural
strength regardless of days of curing. The flexural strength increases with increasing content of sawdust.
With the increasing addition levels of sawdust, the porosity decreases and compact matrix can be
observed. Sawdust addition leads to the formation of an optimal microstructure. The results from
mechanical properties and microstructure observation are compatible.
2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
Relatively low flexural strength and poor resistance to crack
opening and propagation are the main disadvantages of conventional cement concrete [1,2]. Generally, replacement of ordinary
Portland cement (OPC) by mineral admixtures in concrete can
decrease porosity, especially in the long-term [1]. On the other
hand, mineral admixtures such as silica fume can also increase

Corresponding authors at: Faculty of Materials Science and Chemistry, China


University of Geosciences, Wuhan 430074, China.
E-mail addresses: dp19851128@sina.com (P. Duan), chjyan2005@126.com
(C. Yan).
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.conbuildmat.2016.02.091
0950-0618/ 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

the brittleness of concrete and lead to the high probability of


cracks formation. The cracks weaken waterproofing capabilities
of concrete, exposing the concrete to destructive substances such
as moisture, chloride, sulfates etc.
Furthermore, the annual worldwide production of Portland
cement is expected to grow to 4.38 billion tonnes in 2050 based
on 5% growth per year [3]. It is estimated that up to 0.54 tonne
of CO2 per tonne of clinker is released during calcinations and
0.46 tonne of the CO2 emitted is the result of burning fuel to provide the thermal energy necessary for calcination [4]. Hence, a
small reduction of Portland cement production could result in significant environmental benefits in terms of CO2 emission. This has
encouraged research into environmental-friendly cementitious

P. Duan et al. / Construction and Building Materials 111 (2016) 600610

materials producing high strength and good durability while maintaining an acceptable level of energy consumption for production.
The aforementioned issues about the drawbacks of cement
prompt various researches in an attempt to develop a new cementless binder, and geopolymer is such an emerging alternative binder, which was first developed by Davidovits [5]. Geopolymers
are three-dimensional aluminum silicate inorganic polymers composed by [AlO4] and [SiO4] tetrahedra that are mainly prepared
from aluminum silicates or industrial waste [6] such as fly ash
[7,8], slag [911], metakaolin [12,13] etc. and mixed with an alkali
silicate solution under highly alkaline conditions.
Geopolymer represents an alternative to Portland cement due
to similar or even better binding properties [14,15]. In recent years,
geopolymer has attracted considerable attention due to its early
compressive strength, low permeability, good chemical resistance
and excellent fire resistance behaviour [1622].
Although different source materials can be used to prepare
geopolymer binders, fly ash, represents industrial waste that can
be found all over the world, it is particularly attractive for the synthesis of geopolymers. Fly ash is a by-product of thermal power
plant that produces electricity, it contains an ample quantity of
amorphous alumina and silica. Therefore, it is a suitable and a good
source material for producing geopolymeric binder owing to its
chemical compositions.
The properties of fly ash-based geopolymer concrete have been
studied in the last decades [2328]. Fly ash-based geopolymer concrete has properties favourable for its potential use as a cementitious material due to excellent durability aspects. Some authors
[2932] have reported similar engineering properties of geopolymer concrete that were favourable for its use as a construction
material.
Despite the fact that research in this area is intense and there
are a large number of publications that suggest a wide range of
applications of these materials, FA-based geopolymers are still far
from practical applications on a large scale and many problems
are still need to be further investigated [33].
Traditionally, several methods have been used to strengthen
cementitious materials. The most commonly used method was to
add fibers to reinforce cementitious materials [34]. Fibers are
incorporated into concrete to overcome this weakness, producing
materials with increased flexural strength, ductility, toughness
and improved durability properties [3537]. Adding fibers into
plain concrete has been proved to be an effective method to eliminate its inherent brittleness. The fibers bridge the cracks in the
matrix and transfer the applied load to the matrix, thus fiber reinforced concrete has better post-crack behavior than plain concrete
[38]. The presence of fibers also leads to higher impact resistance
and greater flexural and tensile strengths [39]. These property
enhancements depend on a number of factors including matrix
strength, fiber volume and fiber surface bonding characteristics
[40,41].
However, high cost and health hazard of fibers preparation hinder its application. As one of lignocellulosic biomasses, sawdust is
the by-product from the mechanical milling or processing of timber (wood) into various useable sizes. The production of this waste
is up to 24.15 million m3 per year [42]. The sawdust mainly consists of lignin, cellulose, and hemicellulose. Large amounts of these
wastes were either burnt or land filled. These approaches cause
various environmental problems like air pollution, emission of
greenhouse gases, and occupation of useful land. Therefore, the
disposal of sawdust is getting more and more attentions in recent
years. The abundance and availability of sawdust together with its
relatively low cost guarantee its continued utilization.
Among these disposals of sawdust, mineral-bonded sawdust
composites which combine sawdust with Portland cement [43],
magnesite cement [44] and gypsum [45] have long history, and

601

the earliest commercial mineral-bonded (cement) sawdust composite dates back to 1930 s [46].
As mentioned above, sawdust is either disposed of burning or
land filling. But in recent days, land filling is becoming limited
due to scarcity of waste land and increasing environmental concerns, furthermore, burning also leads to environmental contamination. In this regard, many researches and studies are being
carried out to use sawdust, especially in construction materials
to develop a sustainable way of its disposal. The increasing demand
of cement leads to higher rate of environmental degradation and
more exploitation of natural resources for raw material. The use
of sawdust as partial cement replacement in concrete can reduce
the requirement of cement to a large extent [47].
Researchers [4749] had conducted tests which showed
promising results for sawdust being suitably used to replace
cement partially in concrete. Chowdhury et al. [50] evaluated the
suitability of burnt sawdust as partial cement replacement in conventional concrete. It was concluded that the strength properties of
concrete mixture decreased marginally with an increase in burnt
sawdust contents, but strength increased at later ages. Elinwa
et al. [51] assessed the properties of fresh self-compacting concrete
containing sawdust, they found that the compressive strength
development showed a tremendous improvement over the control.
Aigbomian et al. [52,53] developed a new wood-crete building
material using sawdust. It was able to withstand considerable
amount of impact load and the most suitable for wall paneling or
other non- and semi-structural application with good thermal
insulating properties. Sales et al. [54,55] evaluated the potential
application of lightweight concrete produced with lightweight
coarse aggregate made of the water treatment sludge and sawdust,
by determining the thermal properties, mechanical properties and
possible environmental impact of future residue of this concrete.
Also, Zhou and Li [56] made light-weight wood-magnesium oxychloride cement composite building products with sawdust as
aggregate by extrusion. They reported that the composite exhibited less die swell and better performance in resisting high
temperature.
However, after reviewing the previously published findings, the
effects of sawdust on geopolymer are even not well known, little
information is available about microstructure changes of geopolymer and fly ash was not mentioned. Information of effects of sawdust addition on fly ash geopolymer still requires further
investigation.
Therefore, this present study is devoted to determine the fresh
properties, density, nailing ability, drying shrinkage, mechanical
strength, microstructure evolution and pore structure of geopolymer prepared using fly ash as resource material and activated by
liquid alkaline activator when fly ash was partially replaced by
sawdust at levels ranging from 0% to 20% with an interval of 5%,
by weight.

2. Experimental
2.1. Materials
Fly ash utilized in this study was provided by Shenhua Junggar Energy Corporation in Junggar, Inner Mongolia, China. The micrographs of fly ash were shown in
Fig. 1. Sawdust, which was obtained from a wood workshop as residuals when cutting natural wood, was used as reinforcement component for geopolymer. There
were some wood fibers in the sawdust as observed from naked eyes. The sawdust
with density of 0.79 g/cm3 was incorporated into the geopolymer composites without any special pretreatment. This wood, which is used in both the civil construction and furniture sectors, is highly water absorbent with the water absorption of
67% after immersed in water for 24 h and very light with a regular fiber length
due to its anatomical structure as shown in Fig. 2.
The chemical analysis of starting material mentioned above was listed in
Table 1, the properties of sawdust was given in Table 2.

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P. Duan et al. / Construction and Building Materials 111 (2016) 600610

10 m

5 m

2 m

1 m

Fig. 1. The micrographs (SEM) of fluidized bed fly ash.

1cm

10 m

(a)

(b)

Fig. 2. The morphology of sawdust: (a) macro morphology; (b) observed by scanning electronic microscopy.

Table 1
Chemical compositions of fly ash by XRF analysis (mass, %).

Fly ash
a

SiO2

Al2O3

Fe2O3

MgO

CaO

Na2O

K2O

MnO

TiO2

LOIa

29.47

51.72

2.25

0.15

5.21

0.05

0.35

0.03

1.83

8.58

LOI: Loss on ignition.

Table 2
The chemical composition of sawdust (mass, %).
Cellulose
Hemicelluloses
Lignin
Extractives

35.9
27.1
32.8
4.2

The procedure used to determine the composition content of sawdust including


cellulose, hemicelluloses, extractives and lignin was proposed by Xu [57], Viera [58]
and ASTM E1758-01 [59].
The particle size analysis of fly ash were also carried out using a laser diffraction
particle size analyzer (MASTERSIZER S, Malvern, U.K.). Samples were dried for 24 h
at 105 C in an oven before particle size analysis, subsequently each sample was
grinded and sieved for 30 min in a sieve shaker. Each of the size fractions so
obtained was separately analyzed for particle size distribution. Sieve analysis of
fly ash reveals that the particle size range varies widely.

P. Duan et al. / Construction and Building Materials 111 (2016) 600610

activated samples during thermal curing and is an important step because water
is necessary for polymerization. After 24 h, all the specimens were released from
the molds and were subjected to further curing in a standard condition of
20 2 C and 90 5% relative humidity up to acquired days for density, shrinkage,
mechanical properties test and microstructure analysis. Setting time test and workability for fresh geopolymer were also carried out.
Sample characterization was conducted on geopolymer paste specimens to
evaluate the effects of sawdust addition on properties of them.

100
90
D90

Cumulative (%)

80
70
60
50

D50

40

2.3. Test procedure

30
20

D10

10
0
0.1

10

603

100

2.3.1. Flow test


Fresh properties of geopolymer paste were evaluated in order to determine the
performance of the mixture. There are several tests that can be performed for fresh
cement mixture, however this study considered only flow and setting time tests.
The flow test for workability measurement was conducted in accordance to ASTM
C230 [60] by using flow table.

Particle diameter (m)


Fig. 3. Particle size distribution of fly ash.

Table 3
Particle diameter of fly ash (lm).
Characteristic diameter

Fly ash

Dave
D90
D50
D10

5.33
16.11
5.20
1.03

Fig. 3 shows the particle size distribution of fly ash sample. The characteristic
particle diameters D10, D50 and D90 have been tabulated in Table 3. A wide variation
in particle size was observed in fly ash, of which 90% are less than 17 lm.
Alkali activator applied in this work was a combination of sodium silicate solution and sodium hydroxide (99.2% NaOH) in analytical reagent degree (the mass
ratio of sodium silicate solution to sodium hydroxide equals to 8:1). The liquid portions in the mixture were 10 M sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and sodium silicate (Na2SiO3) with 14.51% Na2O, 33.39% SiO2, and 48.53% H2O. The alkali activator solution
was premixed and left to rest for 24 h at ambient temperature prior to casting. It is
remarkable that liquid activator are prepared by mixing of the sodium hydroxide
solution and sodium silicate at the room temperature, and it liberates large amount
of heat so it is recommended to leave it for about 24 h before use.

2.2. Mix design and specimen preparation


In order to determine the sawdust addition on properties of fly ash geopolymer,
five series of geopolymer specimens were designed and synthesized by alkalineactivation of fly ash in alkali silicate solutions (modulus of alkaline activator
Ms = 1.5). The liquid/solid (L/S) mass ratio was invariant at 0.9(the liquid material
consists of liquid alkaline solutions and the extra water, the solid materials consists
of fly ash, sawdust or a combination of them). The water and alkaline solution were
added and mixed with the solid materials rapidly and continuously. Fly ash was
partially replaced by 0%, 5%, 10%, 15% and 20% of sawdust by mass, respectively.
The details of geopolymer paste mixtures are given in Table 4.
The liquid alkali activator were added and mixing with the solid materials
rapidly and continuously for SD0. For SD5, SD10, SD15 and SD20, fly ash and sawdust were mixed for 5 min before contacting with liquid activator. For compressive
strength test, fresh geopolymer pastes were transferred and cast in triplet steel
cubes molds with size of 40  40  40 mm3 which were treated with a mould
release agent, for flexural strength test, prisms were casted with dimension of
40  40  160 mm3, after casting, all the specimens were vibrated for 2 min with
the vibrating table to remove entrained air bubbles. The molds were then sealed
with polyethylene film curing at 40 C for 1 day to simulate hydrothermal curing
until demolding. This process avoids excessive water evaporation in alkali-

Table 4
Mix proportion design for geopolymer paste (mass, %).
Mixtures

Replacement levels of sawdust

Fly ash

Sawdust

SD0
SD5
SD10
SD15
SD20

0
5
10
15
20

100
95
90
85
80

0
5
10
15
20

2.3.2. Setting time


The process of setting was determined by the Vicat penetration test [61]. The
test consists of the measurement of the penetration depth of a metal needle (a
diameter of 1.13 mm) which falls down under gravity in fresh geopolymer mixture.
The final setting time in this paper is defined as the period of time from the pouring
of the fresh geopolymer mixture into the molds to the moment when the needle
penetrates the solidified mass to the depth of 0.5 mm. Three samples of each mixture are used for setting-time testing. The final value presented is the arithmetic
mean of the three values measured. The measurement was performed at a temperature of 20 C.
2.3.3. Density
The density of the cylindrical samples was measured by dividing the mass by
the volume. The stated results are the average of measurements from 3 samples.
Geopolymer were moulded in the dimension of 100 mm  100 mm  100 mm.
Samples were sandpapered for evenness and flatness in all sides while sample mass
was determined using a weighing scale. The actual volume of the specimen was
taken from the measurement of the size of samples. The density of the specimen
was calculated from mass and volume [62]. Three replicates were taken for each
type of geopolymer specimen.
2.3.4. Nailing ability
Nailing ability is an important performance for woodcement composites.
Methodology has been proposed for evaluating nailing performance of cementbased composite materials [63,64]. It has been concluded that a cement-based composite with good nailing ability should be easy to nail, have a high resistance to
cracking, and to be able to hold the nail after it penetrates into the composite
[63]. In this study, nails used in residential construction for wood were punched
into the hardened sawdust-geopolymer using a hammer by hand to assess the nailing ability of the composites. The nailing ability of these composites was evaluated
qualitatively by naked eyes against the criteria proposed by Kuder and Shah [64].
2.3.5. Drying shrinkage
Paste specimens of the size 20  20  200 mm3 were prepared for the drying
shrinkage test. The specimens were removed from the molds after being cured
for 24 h. The prism specimens were installed onto the setup for the length change
tests developed in our previously published work [65] and cured in a room with
constant temperature and relative humidity (20 3 C, RH = 90 5%). Length
changes of the prism were recorded by reading the dial gauge regularly [66].

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P. Duan et al. / Construction and Building Materials 111 (2016) 600610

2.3.6. Compressive strength


The compressive strength of cubic specimen was determined using a universal
testing device with a loading capacity of 3000 kN. The loading rates applied during
the compression tests was 0.6 MPa/s. For each mixture, the compressive strength
was measured at the age of acquired days.
The test pieces were placed between a supporting base and a flat steel plate. The
machine applied a uniform load at a rate of 6 mm/min until the maximum failure
load was reached. The maximum load (in Newton) was automatically recorded
and the compressive strength was calculated as maximum failure stress per unit
area.
Compressive strength tests were performed on each mixture at 1, 3, 7, 14, 28
and 90 days of curing. At each test age, the average values of compressive strengths
of twelve specimens were determined and reported.
2.3.7. Flexural strength
The prism specimen with size of 40  40  160 mm was cast for flexural
strength after several days in accordance to ASTM C348-08 [67]. The specimens
were tested for various percentages of sawdust content. The ability of the specimen
to resist deflection under load was evaluated and studied by doing the flexural test.
Flexural strength tests were performed on each mixture at 1, 3, 7, 14, 28 and
90 days of curing. At each test age, the average values of twelve specimens were
determined and reported.
2.3.8. Mercury intrusion porosimetry
The porosity and pore size distribution of paste were measured by mercury
intrusion porosimetry (MIP, AutoPore IV 9500 series porosimeter) with a maximum
pressure of 207 MPa. The contact angle was 140 and the measurable pore size ranged from about 6 nm to 360 lm. The fragment samples in the shape of pellets of
5  5  5 mm3 in size for pore structure testing were separated from the crushed
specimens and were immerged in ethanol to avoid hydration immediately after
being crushed and were subsequently dried at about 105 C for 24 h before test.
2.3.9. Micrographs test
The development of microstructure, textural characteristics and morphological
changes of geopolymer phases as well as the bonding nature between sawdust and
geopolymer matrix was observed using a JSM-5610LV scanning electronic microscopy (SEM), operating at an accelerating voltage of 15 kV for photomicrographs.
The specimens for morphology observation were also separated from the crushed
specimens mentioned above and were immerged in ethanol to avoid hydration
immediately after being crushed and were subsequently dried at about 105 C for
24 h before test. To avoid charging of the nonconductive sample, a thin gold was
sputtered coated on the surface of the samples.

3. Results and discussion


3.1. Workability
The workability of fly ash geopolymer blended with sawdust
was measured by using flow table test to check the consistency
of fresh mortars before casting. Fig. 4 depicts the flow diameter
measured and recorded. It is clearly observed that reference sample without sawdust indicates 151 mm flow diameter whereas it
is 149 mm for 5% of sawdust addition geopolymer. It can be seen
that the flow diameter decreases as the sawdust content increases

155

SD0

150

to 10%, 15%, and 20% resulting in a diameter of 140, 128 and


113 mm, respectively. Furthermore, it becomes clear that an
increase in sawdust content decreases the workability of geopolymer due to the high water adsorption of sawdust (water absorption
of 67% as indicated before) with a porous structure as depicted in
Fig. 2. The flow diameter of fresh geopolymer was recorded in
the range of 110150 mm. It can be concluded that sawdust addition influences the workability of geopolymer especially when
more than 5% of sawdust is added and hence a proper content
should be selected and considered when using sawdust in
geopolymer.

3.2. Setting time


The results provided in Fig. 5 shows setting time test results. It
indicates that percentage of sawdust content is inversely proportional to setting time. The use of high water absorption sawdust
made the mixture more viscous and it hardened quickly. On the
one hand, the use of sawdust with relatively higher water absorption compared to fly ash as indicated in Section 2.1 made the
geopolymer mixtures hardened quickly and shortened the setting
time due to the adsorption of extra water by sawdust, on the other
hand, the addition of sawdust in alkali system leads to a decrease
of pH due to the decomposition of lignin according to the pH
changes of the pore solution as indicated in Fig. 6. The high alkalinity of the pore solution is well known to be the main factor accelerating the degradation of cellulose and lignin. The pore solution of
hardened samples was obtained by the suspension method [68]
and the pH of the pore solutions was tested by a pH electrode.
The reduction of pH of pore solution of geopolymer will definitely
lead to the reduction of alkalinity, which decelerates the geopolymerization process and prolongs the setting time. From the two
aspects mentioned above, the effects of former suppress the latter
and control the geopolymerization process and leads to the shorten
of the setting time. The reference geopolymer setting time was at
least 5% greater than that of sawdust added mortars.
The results presented in Fig. 5 show that in comparison with a
pure geopolymer (reference sample SD0), whose setting time is
10 h, the addition of sawdust significantly accelerates the solidification process. The setting time ranges from 570 min for the smallest addition of sawdust to 425 min for the highest content.
Importantly, a good linear relation can be found between setting time and sawdust content. The experimental setting time
result as a function of the sawdust content depicts a linear
decrease with the increase of the sawdust content. The highest setting time result is that of the reference SD0.

700
SD5

650
SD10

Setting time (min)

Diameter (mm)

145
140
135

SD15

130
125
120

SD20

115

y = -8.6x + 610
R = 0.9747

SD0

600
SD5

SD10

550
SD15

500
450

SD20

400

110
0

10

15

20

Content of sawdust (%)


Fig. 4. Relationship between flow diameter and sawdust content in geopolymer.

10

15

20

Content of sawdust (%)


Fig. 5. Relationship between setting time and sawdust content in geopolymer.

P. Duan et al. / Construction and Building Materials 111 (2016) 600610

14

pH

13

12

11
0

10

15

20

Content of sawdust (%)


Fig. 6. Relationship between pH and sawdust content in geopolymer.

The results have showed that the sawdust could be used in


geopolymer technology as an accelerator of setting time. This finding improves the possibility of reusing not only currently produced
carbon fiber, steel fiber, basalt fiber and polymer fiber but also the
biomass fiber, stored in landfills and often marked as an environmental burden.
3.3. Density
As lightweight biomass material, sawdust possesses low density (790 kg/m3 in this work) and leads to the development of
lightweight geopolymer. Fig. 7 shows the density test results at
28 days. It indicates that the percentage of sawdust content is proportional to the density of geopolymer. The use of sawdust with
low density made the geopolymer mixture much lighter with
lower density. The density of reference geopolymer was at least
5% greater than that of sawdust added specimen.
The results presented in Fig. 7 show that a good linear relation
can be found between the density and sawdust content. The experimental density result as a function of the sawdust content depicts a
linear decrease with the increase of the sawdust content. This finding improves the development of lightweight geopolymer, which
supported by Sales et al. [54,55], who evaluated the potential application of a lightweight concrete produced with lightweight coarse
aggregate made of the water treatment sludge and sawdust.
3.4. Nailing ability
As mentioned before, nailing ability is an important performance for wood-cement composite, it is also used to assess the
2200
2100

SD5

Density (kg/m3)

resistance for cracking for sawdust-geopolymer composites. Based


on the methodology proposed above [63,64], nails used in residential construction were punched into the hardened sawdust added
geopolymer using a hammer by hand to assess the nailing ability
of the hardened sawdust-geopolymer composites at 28 days.
Pictures of the hardened geopolymer with or without sawdust
with a nail punched in were shown in Fig. 8. It can be clearly seen
that spalling and cracking are found on the surface of reference
geopolymer without sawdust (SD0). However, it can be seen that
no cracking is found on the surface of the geopolymer blended with
20% sawdust (SD20) around the nail. Sawdust with a regular fiber
structure increases the toughness of geopolymer mixture by
improving the bonding between sawdust and geopolymer matrix
and makes the geopolymer high resistance to cracking, and to be
able to hold the nail after it penetrates into the composite. The
resistance to spalling and cracking of geopolymer surface can be
improved by using sawdust with the increasing content from 5%
to 20%. Thus it can be concluded that the sawdust blended
geopolymer is nailable and sawdust is beneficial for the resistance
to cracking. Similar findings can be found for wood-cement composites system in previous study developed by Zhou and Li [56].
3.5. Drying shrinkage
The results provided in Fig. 9 gives the drying shrinkage value of
geopolymer at different test ages. It can be observed that adding
the sawdust into geopolymer can effectively reduce the drying
shrinkage, especially the later ages. The drying shrinkage decreases
with increasing content of sawdust, it may be due to the special
microstructure as shown in Figs. 2 and 13. The channels of sawdust
play a water retention role in the geopolymer matrix and provide
compensation of necessary moisture for geopolymer matrix for
later drying shrinkage deformation. Similar results were also
reported for cement system blended with fibers in previously work
carried out by Juarez et al. [69] and Tong et al. [70].
3.6. Compressive strength
Compressive strength tests of fly ash based geopolymer paste
specimens with different replacement levels of sawdust were performed on each mixture at 1, 3, 7, 14, 28 and 90 days of curing. At
each test age, the average values of compressive strengths of
twelve specimens were determined and reported and the results
have been summarized in Fig. 10.
The results provided in Fig. 10 reveal the compressive strength
development of geopolymer with various replacement level of fly
ash by sawdust at different curing ages.
The compressive strength of geopolymer changes dramatically
before 28 days. It increases from around 20 MPa at 1 day to more
than 55 MPa at 14 days. It can also be observed that that there is
no noticeable difference in changes of compressive strength with
addition of different amount of sawdust when compared to

SD0

2000
1900

SD10

1800

SD15

1700
y = -25.7x + 2097.8
R = 0.9922

1600

SD20

1500
1400
0

10

15

20

Content of sawdust (%)


Fig. 7. Relationship between density and sawdust content in geopolymer.

605

Fig. 8. Nailing performance of the geopolymer blended with sawdust.

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P. Duan et al. / Construction and Building Materials 111 (2016) 600610

14

1310

SD0

Flexural strength (MPa)

Drying shrinkage (10-6m)

1510

SD5

1110

SD10
910

SD15
SD20

710
510
310
110
1

14

28

90

SD0

12

SD5
10

SD10
SD15

SD20
6
4
2
0
1

Curing ages (days)

Compressive strength (MPa)

80
SD0
SD5

60

SD10
50

SD15
SD20

40
30
20
10

14

28

90

Curing ages (days)


Fig. 10. The compressive strength of geopolymer with different content of sawdust.

Specific compressive strength


(106Nm/kg)

0.06
Reference

SD5

SD10

14

28

90

Curing ages (days)

Fig. 9. The drying shrinkage of geopolymer specimens at different age.

70

SD15

SD20

0.05

0.04

0.03

0.02

0.01

Content of sawdust (%)


Fig. 11. Content of sawdust vs specific compressive strength.

reference specimen SD0 at 1, 3, 7 and 14 days. Sawdust exhibits little effect on compressive strength before 14 days of curing. A pronounced increasing in compressive strength can be found at longer
ages after 28 days especially when more than 10% of sawdust is
added, and the increasing is even as high as about 9.6% at 28 days
and 12.1% at 90 days for SD20 compared to SD0, respectively.
Importantly, the changes in compressive strength are modest
with increasing curing ages. Strength at 90 days is nearly the same
with that at 28 days. It can be concluded that early strength of
geopolymer increases rapidly and this is consistent with previously
reported findings [7173]. Yadollahi [71] found that compressive

Fig. 12. The flexural strength of geopolymer with different content of sawdust.

strength increased slowly after 28 days of curing. Ranjbar [72] concluded that geopolymerization was almost complete after 7 days
and the strength gain beyond this period was found insignificant.
Islam [73] also found that most of the specimen achieved 86% of
the 28-day strength at the age of 3-day. Similarly the 7-day and
14-day strengths were 90% and 94%, respectively of the 28-day
strength.
In geopolymer, aluminosilicate gel is the major binding phase
that provides interparticle bonding, which in turn enhances the
macroscopic strength [7476] and takes over the strength gain
behavior of geopolymer paste. Sawdust possesses positive effect
on compressive strength of geopolymer especially at longer curing
ages.
Aigbomian [52] also reported that the compressive strength
increased with increasing content of sawdust. It reflects the compaction of sawdust: relatively small particles and wood fibers at
this point may have filled many gaps between and within them
each other, thus enhancing stress transfer between both materials.
Fly ash particles are generally one to tens of microns in diameter with average particle size of 5.33 lm (see Fig. 3 and Table 3).
Those fine particle materials contribute to the compaction of the
geopolymer matrix (see Figs. 13 and 14).
The alkaline reactivity of fly ash samples was determined
according to Chapelle test described in [77], 1 g of fly ash was mixed
with 1 g of Ca(OH)2 and 100 ml of boiled water. The suspension was
boiled for 16 h and the free Ca(OH)2 was determined by means of
sucrose extraction and titration with a HCl solution. The pozzolanic
activity was 57.5% for fly ash. Higher alkaline reactivity of fly ash
also leads to higher strength after partial replacement.
Based on the analysis mentioned above including fineness and
reactivity, geopolymer with higher strength was obtained. This is
consistent with the findings obtained by Elinwa et al. [51], who
assessed the properties of fresh self-compacting concrete containing sawdust and found that the compressive strength development
showed a tremendous improvement over the control.
To uncover the effect of sawdust addition, specific compressive
strength results are obtained in Fig. 11. Pronounced increase of the
specific compressive strength of geopolymer can be clearly
observed. Partial replacement of fly ash by 5%, 10%, 15% and 20%
of sawdust increases the compressive strength over the reference
sample. Sawdust addition makes it possible to develop lightweight
materials with high compressive strength.
3.7. Flexural strength
Investigation of the ability to resist deformation under load was
done through the flexural test. Flexural strength tests of fly ash

607

P. Duan et al. / Construction and Building Materials 111 (2016) 600610

0.09

(a)

Cumulative Intrusion (mL/g)

0.08
0.07

SD0

0.06

SD5
SD10

0.05

SD15

0.04

SD20

0.03
0.02
0.01
0.00
1

10

100

1000

10000

100000

1000000

Pore diameter (nm)


0.07

(a) SD0

(b)
SD0

0.06

dV/dlogD (mL/g)

SD5
0.05

SD10
SD15

0.04

SD20
0.03
0.02
0.01
0
1

10

100

1000

10000

100000

1000000

Pore diameter (nm)


Fig. 14. The porosity and pore size distribution of geopolymer incorporating
various content of sawdust after 28 days of curing.

(b) SD10

(c) SD20
Fig. 13. The morphological changes of geopolymer with different content of
sawdust.

based geopolymer paste specimens with different replacement


levels of sawdust were performed on each mixture at 1, 3, 7, 14,
28 and 90 days of curing. At each test age, the average values of
twelve specimens were determined and the results have been
summarized in Fig. 12.
SD0 illustrates flexural strength of unreinforced geopolymeric
pastes without sawdust addition. The flexural strength of
geopolymer changes dramatically with curing ages. It increases

from around 2.2 MPa at 1 day to more than 8.4 MPa at 90 days. In
terms of sawdust reinforced geopolymer, 5% of sawdust addition
exhibits little effect on flexural strength regardless of days of curing.
However, the flexural strength increases with increasing content of
sawdust.
It can be seen that geopolymer with 20% sawdust content
reveals the highest flexural strength for all the specimens regardless of curing ages. Evidently SD20 with highest flexural strength
leads to the conclusion that sawdust possesses positive effect on
reinforcement of flexural strength of geopolymer especially after
28 days of curing and hence the produced geopolymer becomes
denser, stronger with greater durability also indicated by nailing
ability as shown in Fig. 8.
Geopolymer with addition of sawdust possesses higher flexural
strength than reference specimen SD0, which may be ascribed to
that there are more wood fibers in sawdust added specimen which
strengthen the bonding with the geopolymer matrix. Nazari [78]
reported that the highest flexural strength of unreinforced
specimens was 9.5 0.4 MPa and reinforcing of this mixture by
5 wt.% of steel fibres resulted in the highest flexural strength,
11.8 0.9 MPa and concluded that in reinforced specimens, there
is a good adhesion between fibres and geopolymeric paste.
3.8. Microstructure
SEM analyses were carried out on geopolymer specimens
prepared from fly ash comprising sawdust in order to identify
and verify the internal microstructure. It also characterizes the
bonding between sawdust and geopolymer matrix. The bonding
is primarily important to produce a strong geopolymer and serves
as the proof of sawdust reinforced geopolymer composites.

608

P. Duan et al. / Construction and Building Materials 111 (2016) 600610

The morphological changes of reference geopolymer (SD0) and


geopolymer specimens with addition of 10% and 20% sawdust
(SD10 and SD20) after 28 days of curing were selected to assess
the effects of sawdust and were illustrated in Fig. 13.
Products of geopolymerization reaction represented a heterogeneous material, i.e. the matrix comprising aluminosilicate gel.
The SEM of geopolymer without addition of sawdust shows
some cracks and a high ratio of porosity after 28 days of curing
(Fig. 13a). With the increasing addition levels of sawdust, compact
matrix of SD10 shown in Fig. 13b can be observed compared to the
reference geopolymers.
A closer observation of Fig. 13c also reveals a denser structure of
geopolymer specimens incorporating 20% sawdust when compared to SD0. This is consistent with the optimal compressive
and flexural strength of geopolymers contained 20% sawdust as
shown in Figs. 10 and 12.
It is well known that high strength is related to the compact
microstructure [79]. Different microstructure of geopolymer was
the result of differences in the bonding between sawdust and
geopolymer matrix, which was consistent with the results of compressive strength testing.
Combined with results of compressive strength and flexural
strength as analyzed above, it can be concluded that mechanical
properties in the geopolymer specimens are closely related to the
microcrack development and the bonding between sawdust and
geopolymer matrix.
3.9. Pore structure
The porosity and pore size distribution measurements of fly ash
geopolymer specimens incorporating various content of sawdust
were evaluated by means of MIP and were illustrated in Fig. 14.
The results after 28 days of curing were plotted to identify how
pore size distribution varied with replacement levels of sawdust.
Development of pore structure in terms of cumulative and differential pore volumes for specimens were presented in Fig. 14a
and Fig. 14b, respectively.
It can be clearly seen from Fig. 14a that with increasing sawdust
content, cumulative intrusion volume corresponding to the porosity decreases. Additionally, the fraction of pores accessible via
diameters larger than 20 nm also generally decreases and most
pores are registered in the size range from 20 nm to 50 nm in
diameter as shown in Fig. 14b.
The differential curves of pore size distribution indicated in
Fig. 14b show some changes between different samples. The
critical pore diameters, defined as the peaks in the differential
curves, giving the rate of mercury intrusion per change in pressure
(differential curves) [80], shift to low values with increasing
replacement levels of fly ash by sawdust. For SD20, the peak value
is less than 20 nm.
From the strength and MIP results, the fact that SD20 has the
highest compressive and flexural strength is more likely to be
related to the formation of an optimal microstructure as shown
in Fig. 13. Furthermore, the lowest strength of SD0 could potentially result from higher porosity as well as higher volume of large
pores.
The results from MIP measurements also correspond very well
with development of mechanical strengths discussed above. The
mechanical strength of geopolymer increases due to dense
microstructures with a reduction in porosity [81].
Based on the pore structure results by MIP, microstructure by
SEM and mechanical strength, it indicates that better mechanical
properties are closely related to the denser microstructure.
Geopolymers with addition of sawdust have a relatively higher
strength when compared with Reference sample (see Fig. 10). This
is also confirmed by MIP tests, which shows the total porosities of

the Reference samples are significantly higher than the porosities


of the sawdust added geopolymers (see Fig. 14). Additionally, a
much denser microstructure can be observed in sawdust added
geopolymers (see Fig. 13). The MIP results (in Fig. 14) correlate
well with the compressive strength (in Fig. 10) and microstructure
(in Fig. 13).
4. Conclusions
This study intends to broaden the application of sawdust in
geopolymer. Fresh properties, density, nailing ability, drying
shrinkage, mechanical strength and microstructure evolution of
fly ash geopolymer blended with sawdust by mass were investigated. The following conclusions can be drawn from the results.
(1) Sawdust addition influences the workability of geopolymer
especially when more than 5% of sawdust is added and a
proper content should be considered when using sawdust
in geopolymer. The percentage of sawdust content is inversely proportional to the setting time, it could be used in
geopolymer as an accelerator of setting time. A good linear
relation has been found between density and sawdust content, and sawdust improves the development of lightweight
geopolymer.
(2) Sawdust blended geopolymer is nailable and sawdust is beneficial for the resistance to cracking. Adding the sawdust into
geopolymer can effectively reduce the drying shrinkage,
especially after later curing ages. The drying shrinkage
decreases with increasing content of sawdust.
(3) The compressive strength of geopolymer changes dramatically before 28 days. Sawdust exhibits little effect on compressive strength before 14 days of curing. A pronounced
increasing in compressive strength can be found after
28 days especially when more than 10% of sawdust is added.
Strength at 90 days is nearly the same with that at 28 days.
Early strength of geopolymer increases rapidly and sawdust
possesses positive effect on compressive strength of
geopolymer especially at longer curing ages.
(4) 5% of sawdust addition exhibits little effect on flexural
strength regardless of days of curing. However, the flexural
strength increases with increasing content of sawdust.
Geopolymer with 20% sawdust content reaches the highest
flexural strength regardless of curing ages. Sawdust possesses positive effect on flexural strength of geopolymer
especially after 28 days of curing.
(5) Geopolymer without sawdust shows some cracks and a high
ratio of porosity after 28 days of curing. With the increasing
addition levels of sawdust, cumulative intrusion volume corresponding to the porosity decreases and compact matrix
can be observed compared to the reference geopolymers.
Sawdust addition leads to the formation of an optimal
microstructure.
(6) The results from mechanical properties and microstructure
observation are compatible. Better mechanical properties
are closely related to the denser microstructure. It is feasible
to utilize sawdust in geopolymer to make reinforced
composites.

Acknowledgments
This work was supported by the National Natural Science
Foundation of China (51502272), the Fundamental Research Funds
for the Central Universities (G1323511543), China University of
Geosciences, Wuhan, China Postdoctoral Science Foundation
(1231512).

P. Duan et al. / Construction and Building Materials 111 (2016) 600610

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