Adhesion – A challenge for concrete repair

L. Czarnecki
Building Materials Engineering Department, Faculty of Civil Engineering,
Warsaw University of Technology, Warsaw, Poland

ABSTRACT: Repair of concrete structure results in formation of at least two-component system, i.e. concrete
overlay/concrete substrate and repair material/repaired concrete. The adhesion between overlays and concrete
substrate is one of the most important factors that affects the reliability and durability of repair. Achievement of
maximum bond strength is basic recommendation for various types of repair joints. The requirement for high
adhesion arises from the higher tolerance on non-compatibility of properties of the bonded materials. In this
paper, the necessity of the above recommendation has been discussed with regards to: repair material type,
strength of concrete substrate and environmental conditions of bond service. The criteria for creation of the
desired bond strength in relation to tensile strength of the concrete substrate have been formulated. The possibilities of creation higher level of adhesion as well as economical and technical limitations of the adhesion
improvement have been stressed. The need for new generation materials—High Adhesion Repair Materials,
HARM for repair of the High Strength Concrete, HSC is formulated.

1

INTRODUCTION

The European Standard EN 1504-10 defined the
bond as the adhesion of the applied product or system to the concrete substrate. Adhesion is defined as
adherence of two materials in contact or in a more
colloquial way “of being stuck together”. It is not surprising that adhesion is a fundamental issue in construction engineering. It is of particular significance
for concrete repair, as in this case, repair materials
have to be combined with an existing substrate.
From a scientific point of view, fundamentals of
adhesion belong to the nano-technology and surface
physic and chemistry in particular (hydrogen bonds,
Van der Waals forces, and chemisorption). The corresponding engineering research area will include
mechanical interlocking on the rough surface of a
substrate on the micro-scale. This opens up a new
research area, which might be called concrete surface science or shorter “concrete surfology” (Garbacz et al., 2005). Recently, E.M. Petrie pointed out
that the huge variety of applications and the multifunctional nature of the technology make it very difficult for engineers to fully understand the present state
of knowledge. There is probably no other industry,
where there is such a need for a basic interdisciplinary understanding (Fig. 1).
Repair of concrete structure results in formation of
at least two-component system, i.e. concrete overlay/

Figure 1. Adhesion science and engineering as the multiple
sciences (acc. to E.M. Petrie) considered on multiscale levels.

concrete substrate and repair material/repaired
concrete. The adhesion between overlays and concrete substrate is one of the most important factors
that affects the reliability and durability of repair.

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Achievement of maximum bond strength is basic
recommendation for various types of repair joints.
The question arises how high bond strength is high
enough? Some consideration on that has been presented in the paper with regards to: repair material
type, strength of concrete substrate and environmental conditions of bond service.
2

property of repair product or system when bonded
onto prepared concrete substrate, to accommodate
cyclic changes in temperature”. It gives us the signal
on well-known fact, that a high adhesion increases a
tolerance on non-compatibility of properties of the
bonded materials (Czarnecki & Runkiewicz, 2005).

3 ADHESION AS A MEASURE OF REPAIR
EFFECTIVENESS (CZARNECKI, 2007)

REPAIR BOND AS STANDARD
REQUIREMENT

Adhesion strength is one (if not the first one) of the
most important technical characteristics of the repair
materials (Czarnecki & Chmielewska, 2005). Adhesion is a decisive factor of repair effective-ness. It apparently appears to be a trivial problem. In EN 1504
the adhesive bond level are formulated in two ways of
expression of results:
threshold value in MPa; towards structural repair
(EN 1504-3): 2,0 MPa (Class R4), 1,5 MPa
(Class R3);
pass/fail criteria towards structural bonding
(EN 1504-4) e.g. hardened concrete-to-hardened
concrete or fresh concrete-to-hardened concrete:
the test shall result in fracture in the concrete.
macrolevel: a level of an adhesion performance;
usually on this level macrodefects—lack of adhesion are demonstrated, e.g. various kind of cracks
in repaired system (L. Czarnecki, 2007);
microlevels: microcracks under low (left) and high
(right) load could be observed (H. Schorn, 2007);
nanolevel: a level of atoms and molecules. Adhesion is the molecular attraction exerted between
bodies in contact—the level at an effective creation
of adhesion but also a source of adhesion defects.
Photos shows creation of polymer film in polymer
modified cementitious composites (H. Schorn,
2007, Czarnecki & H. Schorn, 2007).
Additionally, results of thermal compatibility of
structural and non-structural repair products are also
evaluate in terms of bond strength (see EN 1504-3).
Compatibility—according to technical vocabulary
mean “capable of existing together in harmony”.
The achievement of the compatibility is the general
requirement according to the European Standard
EN 1504-10: “Site application of products and systems
and quality control of the works”. However, beyond
the general statement, products and systems should
be compatible with each other and with the original
concrete structure (EN 1504-9), the Standard has not
defined the concept of compatibility or the method
of its quality control. There is only one exception—
“thermal compatibility”. According to European
Standard EN 1504-3: “thermal compatibility” —“the

Adhesion between the repair material and the concrete substrate is a very important technical property
towards structural and non-structural repair as well.
Proper level of adhesion assures utmost load capacity of the repaired system (Fig. 2). The adhesion of
repair joint is effective if it enables the load transfer
and ensures even distribution of stresses. It can be
reached if bonding materials satisfy the conditions of
physico-chemical compatibility and guarantee tightness of the joint. Module of elasticity, setting shrinkage, coefficient of thermal expansion and creep are
the properties of particular significance.
Stressed induced by setting shrinkage concern the
systems in which setting causes changes in volume.
Stress concentration is located mainly at the interfacial zone that forms between the mineral surface
and the setting material. Similar stressed result from
differentiation in the coefficients of thermal expansion between the substrate and the covering layer.
They arise both during the setting, when it occurs
with thermal effects and during an exploitation when
temperature changes (Fig. 3).
Differences in the coefficients of thermal expansion of bonding materials and setting shrinkage are
of significance when polymers are used for repair
and protection of the cement concrete. Shrinkage
of polymer composites depends mainly on the type
of polymer and composite composition. Even when

Figure 2. Breakdown of repair bond due to the failure of
adhesion and/or failure of cohesion in concrete substrate
and/or repair material.

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with the increase of adhesion there is also an increase
in the tolerance of compatibility errors in the material
selection (Czarnecki et al., 2004).

4

Table 1. Modeling relation between adhesion to concrete
substrate and shrinkage stresses (acc. Carino, 1995).

polymer concrete is highly filled with aggregate the
coefficient of thermal expansion is usually about two
times higher (2 10 5 mm/mm/°C) in comparison with
cement concrete (1 10–5 mm/mm/°C). The change
of temperature in such system causes shrinkage or
expansion of the polymer layer, which is restricted by
smaller deflection of the cement concrete. When the
polymer layer is under tensile stress the concrete substrate is compressed (Fig. 4).
The relationship between shear and normal stresses,
which develop at the boundary of cement concrete/
polymer concrete phases, was analysed taking into
account thickness of the polymer concrete layer and
the difference in modulus of elasticity of both materials
(Choi et al., 1999). It was demonstrated that stresses
decrease when the thickness of the polymer concrete
and their modulus of elasticity increase (range of
investigation: E 3 28 GPa). It is significant that

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Diagram

Zero adhesion

Figure 4. Shear stresses in the interfacial zone of a composite as a result of a) setting shrinkage, b) difference in
coefficients of thermal expansion.

In very roughly estimation, a successful repair
means “no cracks”. Paradoxically, if adhesion in the
repaired system is zero than free shrinkage will be
possible and in consequence: zero stresses (Carino,
1995). However, from practical point of view zero
adhesion repair method seems to be close to absurd.
Much more promising is another extremum- maximal
adhesion (Tab. 1).
In rough estimation, various oriented cracks occur
regarding to the combination of values: concrete tensile strength, ftC; repair material tensile strength, ftR and
adhesion strength, fA in relation to internal stresses,
(Tab. 2). European Standard EN 1504-4 makes no
t
doubts the bond test shall result in fracture “in the reference concrete”. Exactly to the Standard “reference
concrete” (MC (0.40) acc. EN 1766) means: C50/60
with surface tensile strength above 3.0 MPa. However,
if we treat the “reference concrete” in the broad sense,
it means a “given concrete to be repaired”. It makes
not only “broad sense” but “common sense” as well;
in agreement with engineer’s intuition. The repair
bond should not be the weakest place in surroundings
concrete. It is particularly of importance in structural
repair bonding (EN 1504-4), where “the casting of
fresh concrete to hardened concrete using an adhesive
bonded joint where it forms a part of the structure and

high adhesion level

Figure 3. Modeling of cooperation non-compatible system (Czarnecki & Emmons, 2002): a–constant temperature, b–surface cooling, c–surface heating, d–“constraint
compatibility” (effective to some extent).

CRACKS AND ADHESION

Comments

h

l

repair mortar fill
loss in concrete
before setting
free setting
shrinkage

repair mortar after
setting
shrinkage stresses
estimated on
2 MPa

Table 2. Various kind of cracks in repaired
system.
Diagram

ftk depends on the various repair materials (MCC–
Modified Cement Concrete, PCC–Polymer Cement
Concrete, PC–Polymer Concrete) and on different
system: with- and without protection coating.

Relation

ft R

t

ft C

fA
5

fA

t

ft C

ft R

ft C

t

ft R

fA

ft R

t

ft C

fA

ftC

ft R

fA

t

Previous considerations give us a set of required
adhesion strength ascribed to the given mechanical
strength of concrete substrate. If we put together the
concrete strength classes according to the EN 206-1
and required adhesion values, than compare them with
features of various repair materials, the computation
diagram for repair usability can be built up (Fig. 5).
It is obvious that existing repair materials are good
enough for ordinary concretes. Categorization “top
down” for usability of repair materials for concrete
substrate of various classes will be as follow:
PC—(Polymer Concrete and Mortars) below
C60/75
PCC—(Polymer Cement Concrete and Mortars)
below C40/50
MCC—(Modified Polymer Cement Concrete and
Mortars) below C25/30.

–internal shrinkage stress, ftR–repair material
t
tensile strength, ftC–concrete tensile strength,
fA–adhesion strength.
Table 3. Requirement adhesion strength value, fA in relation
to the concrete tensile strength, ftk (author’s suggestion).
Repair system
without protection
coat

with protection
coat

fA

1,20 ftk

fA

1,15 ftk

fA

1,25 ftk

fA

1,20 ftk

fA

1,30 ftk

fA

1,25 ftk

Repair material
MCC (polymer
content 5%
cement mass)
PCC (polymer
content 5%
cement mass)
PC

HARM (HIGH ADHESIVE REPAIR
MATERIAL)—NEEDS

MCC–Modified Cement Concrete, PCC–Polymer Cement
Concrete, PC–Polymer Concrete.

is required to act compositely”. It means, that fA ftC,
or in more practical way fA ftk.
There is a need for the compromise between economy and ageing sensibility (durability), compatibility level and reliability requirement. It is necessary
to remember that ageing is more dangerous in case
of polymer composite than mineral one, and external
protection coating makes a difference too. According
to the author’s suggestion (Tab. 3): fA (1.15 1.30)

There is no effective (adhesive) enough repair
materials for High Strength Concrete, HSC–classes
C70/85, C80/95, C90/105, C100/115 and more.
Of course, when we think about concrete repair,
we usually have an old and weak concrete in mind,
e.g.—below C20/25. However, an old concrete is not
necessarily a weak one, it could be quite healthy and
strong.
Moreover, a damage caused by accidental impact
(e.g. due to the traffic), overloading, settlement and
explosion could also happen to new high-strength
concrete elements. There is need for new generation
of repair materials—High Adhesive Repair Materials,
HARM.
The work on High Adhesive-Polymer Cement
Concrete, HA-PCC is already under way. The PCC
with adhesion bond (pull-off test) around 5 MPa has
been received (Łukowski, 2003) till now. It is worth
to stress that High Strength Concrete need—by
nature—more aggressive surface preparation, which
could result—in turn—in the increase of microcracks
in concrete substrate (Czarnecki et al., 2003). In such
case “bonding layer” on concrete substrate below the
repair materials will be justified or even needed. The
repair materials—as the rule—should contain microfibers for better “microcrack bridging”. There is a
need not only for new generation of repair materials
but also for new generation of repair systems and
methods.

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Figure 5. Required adhesion strength, fA vs. concrete compressive strength, fCm adequately to the concrete strength classes.
Areas of “adhesion usability” adequate to various kind of repair materials: MCC, PCC, PC are described.

6

FACTORS AFFECTING ADHESION BOND

There are many factors affecting adhesives strength
involved (Czarnecki & Chmielewska, 2005) with:
concrete substrate: mechanical strength, surface
roughness, microcracks, porosity, dampness, impurities, etc.,
repair materials: viscosity, wetting (surface tension), setting shrinkage, thermal expansion, elastic
modulus, creep, etc.,
environmental impact: transportation phenomena
(diffusion, osmosis, capillary suction), temperature level and change of temperature, humidity
level and change of humidity, mechanical loading,
degradation (ageing, carbonation, corrosion).

in the concrete” in the broad sense and compare it
with concrete strength classes according to the EN
1206-1, it will be clear that existing repair materials
are suitable only for the repair of the ordinary (regular) concrete.
There is the need for new generation materials—
High Adhesion Repair Materials for repair of the
High Strength Concrete; HARM for HSC.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Some of them could increase adhesion level, but—
in general—are the reasons of adhesive destruction;
in case of environmental usually gradually due to
the time. Considering the factors affecting adhesion
bond the High Adhesive Repair Materials need is still
obvious.

In the paper has been used some ideas and figures formerly published in “Adhesion in Interfaces
of Building Materials: a Multi-scale Approach
(L.Czarnecki, A.Garbacz, eds), Advances in Materials Science and Restoration (AMSR), 2007. Author
would like express acknowledgement to AMSR Editor Prof. dr FH Wittmann and Aedificatio Publisher.
This work has been prepared in the framework of
the Warsaw University of Technology grant nr 504
G 1080 7007.

7

REFERENCES

CONCLUSIONS

If we would treat the European Standard (EN 1504-4)
requirement: “adhesion test shall result in fracture

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