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Palm oil fuel ash concrete


Department of Structure and Materials, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
Johor Bahru, Malaysia

Durability of Building Materials and Components 8. (1999) Edited by M.A. Lacasse

and D.J. Vanier. Institute for Research in Construction, Ottawa ON, K1A 0R6,
Canada, pp. 465-474.
National Research Council Canada 1999


The use of pozzolans, either naturally occurring or artificially made, has been in
practice since the early civilisation. Of the artificial pozzolans, fly ash is the most
commonly used globally. With the rise in the demand for high performance
concrete in recent years, however, the demand for such pozzolanic materials is
also increasing steadily. Perhaps the latest addition to the ash family is palm oil
fuel ash (POFA); a waste material obtained on burning palm oil fibre and palm
kernel shell as fuel in palm oil mill boilers that has recently been identified as a
good pozzolanic material. This paper illustrates some test results on the
performance behaviour of concrete incorporating POFA as a partial replacement
of ordinary Portland cement (OPC). The durability aspects considered in this
study are resistance to heat rise, carbonation, and resistance to aggressive
chemicals like chloride and acid attack. Experimental investigation on resistance
to heat rise demonstrates that the partial replacement of OPC by POFA is
advantageous in controlling temperature rise. As compared with the specimens
prepared form OPC alone, concrete specimens made with POFA exhibited much
better resistance to attack by chloride ions and acid solution. It is the pozzolanic
behaviour of the ash that has been credited for the excellent performance against
such aggressive environments. Interestingly, the depth of carbonation was not
influenced by the replacement of OPC as only a little difference in each value of
carbonation between OPC and POFA concrete specimens has been detected.

Keywords: Carbonation, chemical attack, durability, heat of hydration, high

performance concrete, palm oil fuel ash, pozzolan
1 Introduction

The utilisation of supplementary cementing materials, such as fly ash, slags

and silica fume has undoubtedly proven the effectiveness of these materials in
making strong and durable concrete. With the increase in the demand for concrete
with high performance characteristics, the call for such materials is also
increasing. Again, with the increase in the diversified use of waste materials with
pozzolanic behaviour, more products are likely to emerge as highly potential
cement substitute in concrete construction. One of the latest additions to the ash
family is palm oil fuel ash (POFA), a waste material obtained in the form of ash
on burning palm oil fibre and palm kernel shell as fuel in palm oil mill boilers that
has been discovered as a good pozzolanic material.
In recent years, palm oil has become one of the major cash crops in several
tropical countries of the world of which Malaysia is the largest producer of palm
oil and palm oil by-products. At present, around two hundred palm oil mills are
in operation in Malaysia alone where palm fibres and palm kernel shells are used
as boiler fuel to produce steam for electricity generation and palm oil extraction
process. It has been estimated that the amount of solid waste by-products in the
form of fibre and shells generated by palm oil industry is over two million tons
per year (Rashid and Rozainee 1993). The ash produced after burning is known
as palm oil fuel ash (POFA) and is simply disposed of without any commercial
return posing problems of waste management at the mill sites. Laboratory
investigations, however, have shown that this ash has pozzolanic properties that
not only enabled the replacement of ordinary Portland cement but also found to
play an effective role in producing strong and highly durable concrete (Tay 1990;
Salihuddin et al. 1996; Awal 1998).
Considering the availability and the inherent pozzolanic property of POFA,
research programmes have been initiated in the Department of Structure &
Materials of the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia in examining various aspects of
strength and durability properties of concrete containing this ash since early
nineties. As different pozzolanic materials behave differently, it has been
considered felicitous to investigate the effectiveness of this newly identified
pozzolanic material in the production of high performance concrete. The
durability performances considered in this paper are resistance to heat rise,
carbonation, and resistance to aggressive chemicals like chloride and acid attack.
Along with durability test data, some physical and chemical properties of the ash
are also presented and discussed.

2 Experimental programme

2.1 Materials

2.1.1 Palm oil fuel ash

This ash, as mentioned earlier, is the product of burning palm oil husk and
palm kernel shell in palm oil mill boilers. In the present study, ash was collected
from Bukit Lawang palm oil mills, Johor of West Malaysia. After collection, the
ash was sieved through 300 m sieve to remove any foreign material and large
size ash particles. The ashes were then ground in a Los Angeles abrasion machine
using stainless steel bars (12 mm diameter and 800 mm long) instead of balls in it.
In bulk, POFA is greyish in colour that becomes darker with increasing
proportions of unburned carbon. The physical properties and chemical analysis of
the ash are shown in Table 1. The most important property that is to mention is
the fineness of the ash. Fineness, as measured in specific surface area, shows that
POFA is much finer than OPC. Following LeChatelier method, this ash has been
found to be equally sound. The chemical analysis reveals that POFA, in general,
satisfies the requirements to be pozzolanic and may be classified in between Class
C and Class F according to the standard specified in ASTM C618-94a (1994).

2.1.2 Cement
Ordinary Portland cement (ASTM Type I) from a single source was used
throughout the study. The detail of the physical properties and chemical
composition of the cement is also presented in Table 1.

2.1.3 Aggregate
Dry mining sand with fineness modulus of 2.4 and crushed granite of 10
mm size were used as fine and coarse aggregate respectively. The specific gravity
and water absorption of fine aggregates were 2.5 and 1.34 percent respectively
while the same for coarse aggregates were 2.61 and 0.76.

Table 1: Physical properties and chemical analysis of OPC and POFA


Physical Properties:
Fineness - Sp.surface area (m/kg) 314 519
Soundness LeChatelier method (mm) 1 1
Specific gravity 3.28 2.22

Chemical Analysis (%)

Silicon Dioxide (SiO2) 20.2 43.6
Aluminium Oxide (Al2O3) 5.7 11.4
Ferric Oxide (Fe2O3) 3.0 4.7
Calcium Oxide (CaO) 62.5 8.4
Magnesium Oxide (MgO) 2.6 4.8
Sulphur Trioxide (SO3) 1.8 2.8
Sodium Oxide (Na2O) 0.16 0.39
Potassium Oxide (K2O) 0.87 3.5
Loss on Ignition (LOI) 2.7 18.0

Pozzolanic Activity Index with OPC --- 112

2.2 Manufacture of concrete and test details

2.2.1 Design and manufacture of concrete

Concrete with pozzolanic materials can be made following various mix
design criteria. In this study, a mix proportion of 1:2:3 for cement, fine aggregate
and coarse aggregate, mass for mass, with water-binder ratio of 0.5 was used
throughout the research and the mixing of ash in concrete was based on a simple
approach of direct replacement.
Table 2 illustrates the detail of the concrete mix having 30% palm oil fuel
ash. One of the important messages of the table is that the total cementitious
material content has been kept constant in both the mixes. In order to facilitate
the direct comparison of the performance behaviour of POFA with that of the
control OPC, no other modifications have been made in the concrete mixes. The
only difference in the ash concrete is that 30% OPC amounting to 110 kg/m3 has
been replaced by the same amount of POFA.

Table 2: Mix details of concrete with OPC as control and concrete with 30%

OPC Concrete POFA Concrete

(kg/m3) (kg/m3)
Ordinary Portland Cement (OPC) 370 260
Palm Oil Fuel Ash (POFA) --- 110
Water 185 185
Fine Aggregate 740 740
Coarse Aggregate 1100 1100

All the tests were performed in the laboratory where the recorded
temperature was 272 C with relative humidity of 755 %.

2.2.2 Measurement of heat of hydration

Heat of hydration is basically the property of cement concrete in its
hardening state. However, the temperature rise due to heat of hydration
eventually turns into concern of durability, particularly in mass concrete.
In the present investigation, cubical plywood of sides 500 mm was
internally pact with a 76 mm thick expanded polystyrene acting as the insulator.
Each concrete mix was cast into another plywood cubical with internal dimension
of 300 mm. Prior to casting, a thermocouple (Type K) was inserted into the
centre of each box through the drilled hole of the polystyrene foam lid and was
connected to a computer driven data acquisition system (Schlumberger SI
When concrete was poured into the box, heat was liberated by the hydration
process that subsequently increased the temperature of the concrete mass. This
increase in temperature and subsequent drop was monitored with close intervals
during the first 24 hours and with lesser frequently afterwards until the
temperature dropped close to the initial reading. Recording of temperature was
continued up to 5 days for both the mixes.

2.2.3 Determination of carbonation

The extent of carbonation of concrete in a particular exposure condition is
usually measured in terms of depth of penetration at a certain period. In the
present study carbonation tests were carried out on both OPC and POFA concrete
prisms (100 x 100 x 500 mm) subjected to different curing conditions, viz. water
curing, 7 days in water then air, and air curing. The detail of mix proportions
followed in preparing test samples is similar to the one outlined earlier in Table 2.
For each mix and curing condition the carbonation depth was measured at
the ages of 28, 90, 180 and 365 days. The extent of carbonation was determined
by treating a freshly broken surface of the splitted prism with 1% phenolphthalein;
the free calcium hydroxide in uncarbonated portion of concrete turns pink while
the carbonated portion remains colourless. The average carbonation for each
condition was thus obtained by measuring the distance between the end surface
and the colour boundary along the four sides from three specimens.

2.2.4 Determination of chloride penetration

The objective of this test was to evaluate the performance of concrete
containing POFA in resisting the penetration of chloride ion. Concrete cylinder
specimens (100 x 200 mm) with a mix proportion similar to the one shown in
Table 2 were cast. The number of the specimens for both OPC and POFA
concrete mixes were nine: three for each immersion period of 7, 28, and 90 days
in 5% sodium chloride solution. Day after casting, the specimens were
demoulded and cured in water for 28 days before putting them into the chloride
Following the specified period of immersion, the specimens were removed
from the solution to test for chloride penetration. At any particular period of
immersion, identical cylinders (three OPC concrete and three with POFA) were
splitted along their length. The exposed cross-sections were then sprayed with
0.2N silver nitrate solution. Ravindrarajah and Moses (1993) and Lee et al.
(1996) have successfully used similar method while determining the depth of
penetration of chloride ions.
In the chloride diffused area, silver nitrate forms a white precipitate of silver
chloride, while in the area not penetrated by chloride it reacts with hydroxide ions
to form silver oxide that appears on the surface as a brown precipitate. The depth
of chloride ion penetration in concrete, thus, is clearly identified at the colour
change boundary. As the depth of chloride penetration into concrete is not
uniform, six readings were taken on each cylinder along the two sides of a split
specimen using a digital Vernier calliper.

2.2.5 Test for acid resistance

Various physical and chemical tests on the resistance of concrete to acids
have been developed, but there are no standard procedures. Acids of various
types, viz. sulphuric acid, hydrochloric acid, acetic acid, nitric acid etc. are
normally used in determining the performance of concrete in acidic environment.
In the present investigation concrete cube specimens were cured in water for 28
days before putting them into 5% hydrochloric acid solution. The durability
performance of both OPC and POFA concrete specimens were then determined
by periodic measurement of weight losses of the samples continuously immersed
in the test solution. The pH of the solution was controlled to about 2 throughout
the immersion period of 1800 hours.
3 Test results and discussion

3.1 Resistance to heat rise

The development of temperature due to heat liberation by the hydration
process in both OPC and POFA concrete was determined and the recorded data
measured at the mid-depth of concrete blocks are graphically presented in Figure
1. It can be seen that during the initial period the temperature rise for both OPC
and POFA concrete was almost equal. With time, a two-fold effect of the partial
replacement of OPC by POFA can be detected. Firstly, concrete with POFA
reduced the total temperature rise and secondly, it delayed the time at which the
peak temperature occurred. Although the initial mixing temperature of both the
mixes was approximately the same, considerably more heat was evolved from
OPC concrete during the first day i.e. within 24 hours after casting. The peak
temperature of 36.7 C, as obtained for OPC concrete, was recorded at 20 hours.
On the other hand, the highest temperature of 35.4 C was monitored in concrete
with 30% POFA at 28 hours of casting. Both the concretes eventually showed a
gradual drop in temperature until a relatively steady state was attained during the
later period of investigation.

OPC Concrete
38 POFA Concrete
Temperature (C)




0 20 40 60 80 100 120
Time After Casting (hr)

Fig. 1: Effect of palm oil fuel ash on temperature rise in concrete

The observations made above suggest that the partial replacement of OPC
by POFA is advantageous for massive structures where potential loss of concrete
strength may occur due to thermal cracking. No other experimental data on the
time-temperature behaviour of concrete with palm oil fuel ash is yet available in
the literature. The available data on other pozzolanic materials like low-calcium
fly ash, rice husk ash, silica fume, slag etc. give similar results obtained in this

3.2 Carbonation
The carbonation tests were carried out on concrete prisms made from OPC
and OPC with 30% POFA. Two objectives were set forward: to evaluate the
effect of partial replacement of OPC by POFA and to determine the influence of
various curing conditions on carbonation of concrete. The latter was considered
because, apart from the water-binder ratio and compressive strength, curing of
concrete containing pozzolanic materials is also known to be a significant factor
controlling the rate of carbonation. Data on carbonation of both OPC and POFA
concrete obtained at different periods and from various exposure conditions are
given in Table 3.
The results presented in Table 3 clearly indicate the importance of initial
moist curing against carbonation of concrete. As expected, concretes cured
continuously in water showed no traces of carbonation. Both OPC and POFA
concrete specimens initially cured for 7 days showed better performance. The
depths of carbonation, however, for specimens cured in air were recorded to be
maximum at all ages. This is expected, as moist curing provides better hydration;
thus improving impermeability of the system resulting from the refinement of
pore structure of the mortar phase of concrete.

Table 3: Carbonation properties of OPC and POFA concretes

Depth of carbonation at various test ages

Curing Type of
Regime Concrete 28 Days 90 Days 180 Days 365 Days
(mm) (mm) (mm) (mm)
OPC 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
POFA 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0

7 Days OPC 0.5 1.0 1.5 2.6

water + air POFA 0.5 0.9 1.6 2.3
OPC 0.6 1.9 3.3 4.4
POFA 0.8 2.1 3.8 5.0

Although the specimens continuously cured in water showed no carbonation

at all, evidently the magnitudes of carbonation depth for OPC and POFA concrete
specimens cured in other two conditions were found to increase with time. Data,
summarised in Table 3, show some scatter but no remarkable differences had been
recorded between the carbonation depths in OPC and POFA concrete specimens.

3.3 Resistance to chloride penetration

Following the procedures outlined in section 2.2.4, the depths of penetration
of chloride ion into concrete specimens were measured at different immersion
periods of 7, 28, and 90 days. The relationship between the immersion period and
the average depth of penetration of chloride ions into concrete with OPC, and
concrete with OPC and 30% POFA is shown in Figure 2. The test results,
illustrated in the figure reveal that at all times of immersion the depths of
penetration of chloride ions into OPC concrete are higher than that in concrete
with POFA. This higher resistance to chloride penetration of POFA concrete is
apparently due to its pozzolanic behaviour.
Table 4 summarises the chloride diffusion coefficients of OPC and POFA
concretes. Because of the sedimentation of chloride ions on the surface of the test
specimens, the values of diffusion coefficient for both concretes decreased with
time. However, at all periods of immersion POFA concrete exhibited lower
values than the OPC concrete.
No quantitative analysis of chloride content of concrete has been carried out
to find a correlation between the chloride concentration and the depth of
penetration. However, the result obtained in the present investigation is well in
agreement with the findings of Ravindrarajah and Moses (1993) and Collepardi
(1993) who found that the depths of penetration of chloride ions in concrete with
other pozzolanic materials like fly ash, slag or silica fume were significantly less
than in concrete with OPC alone.
Depth of Penetration (mm)


OPC Concrete
POFA Concrete

10 20 30 40 50 60
Square Root of Time (hr)

Fig. 2: Effect of palm oil fuel ash on chloride penetration in concrete

Table 4: Chloride diffusion rate in OPC and POFA concrete

Diffusion Coefficient (10 -3mm/hr)

Type of Concrete
7 days 28 days 90 days
OPC Concrete 17.25 9.58 3.19
POFA Concrete 5.42 3.44 1.46

3.4 Resistance to acid attack

The resistance to acid attack of concrete cube specimens has been carried
out by measuring the loss of weight of the samples continuously submerged in a
5% hydrochloric acid solution. Figure 3 reveals that concrete with POFA
exhibited better resistance against the acid at all periods of immersion. The
weight loss of OPC concrete after 1800 hours, for example, was 24%; POFA
concrete on the other hand lost about 18%. This is expected not only for the fact
that POFA is being identified as a good pozzolanic material but also due to its low
(i.e. 8.4%) CaO content in comparison to the high content of over 60% in OPC.
Because of the higher content of CaO, the hydration products of OPC contain
about 25% Ca(OH)2 which Mehta (1979) concludes to be primarily responsible
for the poor resistance of ordinary Portland cement concretes exposed to acidic
attack. As POFA contains a very small amount of CaO, consequently the amount
of Ca(OH)2 would be less in the products of hydration. It was also noted that the
test specimens made with POFA showed better surface condition than those
prepared with OPC only.
The results obtained in this study are in close agreements with other
research findings on rice husk ash and silica fume. According to Mehta (1979)
concrete with rice husk ash performed extremely well against various types of
acid attack. Experimental investigation by the same researcher with silica fume
reveals that concrete exposed to solutions having various percentages of
hydrochloric acid, sulphuric acid, lactic acid and acetic acid showed better
resistance to chemical attack than the concrete without silica fume.

Weight Loss (%)


OPC Concrete
POFA Concrete

0 300 600 900 1200 1500 1800 2100

Immersion Period (hr)

Fig. 3: Comparative weight loss of OPC and POFA concrete specimens

continuously immersed in 5% hydrochloric acid solution

The present investigation involves resistance of concrete against only one

type of acid solution. Although tests involving other types of acid have not been
carried out, concrete incorporating palm oil fuel ash appears to have a potential
for the construction of structures exposed to acidic environments.

4 Conclusions

On the basis of the results obtained and observations made in the present
study, the conclusions drawn are:
Experimental investigation on resistance to heat rise demonstrates that the
partial replacement of OPC by POFA is advantageous, particularly for mass
concrete where thermal cracking due to excessive heat rise is of great concern.
Generally speaking, concrete with POFA showed somewhat similar depths of
carbonation to concrete with OPC alone. Although the results are not truly
conclusive, POFA concrete appears to be more sensitive to exposure
condition: the dryer the curing condition the deeper the carbonation.
Study on the resistance to chloride ion revealed that the depths of penetration
of chloride ions in concrete containing POFA was much lower than in
concrete with OPC alone. The pozzolanic behaviour of the ash causing a
decrease in permeability resulting from the refinement of pore structure of the
cement matrix has been attributed for the higher resistance to penetration of
chloride ions into concrete.
Like concrete with other fly ashes of low-lime content, POFA concrete
exhibited a commendable resistance to acid attack. The pozzolanic behaviour
as well as its low lime content had been characterised for the resistance to
such acidic environment.

5 References

ASTM Designation C 618-94a (1994) Standard specification for fly ash and raw
or calcined natural pozzolan for use as a mineral admixture in Portland
cement concrete. Annual Book of ASTM Standards. American Society for
Testing and Materials.
Awal, A.S.M.A. (1998) A Study of Strength and Durability Performances of
Concrete Containing Palm Oil Fuel Ash. Ph. D. Thesis, Universiti
Teknologi Malaysia.
Collepardi, M. (1993) The world of chemical admixtures in concrete. Proceedings
of the 18th Conference on Our World in Concrete and Structures,
Singapore, pp. 63-71.
Lee, S.L., Wong, S.F., Swaddiwudhipong, S., Wee, T.H. and Loo, Y.H. (1996)
Accelerated test of ingress of chloride ions in concrete under pressure and
concentration gradients. Magazine of Concrete Research. Vol. 48, No. 174,
pp. 15-25.
Mehta, P.K. (1979) The chemistry and technology of cements made from rice
husk ash. Rice Husk Ash Cement. Proceedings of a Joint Workshop on
Production of cement like materials from agro - wastes, Peshawar, Pakistan,
22-26 January, pp. 113-122.
Rashid, M. and Rozainee, M. (1993) Particulate emissions from a palm oil mill
plant - a case study. Jurnal Teknologi. Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Vol.
22, December, pp. 19-24.
Ravindrarajah, R.S. and Moses, P.R. (1993) Effect of binder type on chloride
penetration in mortar. Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference
on Structural Failure, Durability and Retrofitting, (ed. M.A. Mansur), K.H.
Tan and P. Paramasivam, Singapore, pp. 303-309.
Salihuddin, R.S., Hussin, M.W. and Bonner, D.G. (1996) Strength, pozzolanic
reactions and microstructures of hardened mortar pastes containing palm oil
fuel ash (POFA). Proceedings of the Third Asia-Pacific Conference on
Structural Engineering and Construction, Johor Bahru, Malaysia, (ed. M.
W. Hussin), pp. 405-416.
Tay, J. H. (1990), Ash from oil-palm waste as concrete material. Journal of
Materials in Civil Engineering. ASCE, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 94-105.