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EARLY-AGE THERMAL CRACKING IN
CONCRETE STRUCTURES -THE ROLE OF ZERO-
STRESS TEMPERATURE?

Conference Paper · January 2016

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Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology. INTRODUCTION Early-age cracking in concrete structures. 2011). aesthetics. Tondolo et al. This paper first highlights major knowledge gaps related to early-age thermal cracking and the need for addressing such gaps. Queensland Department of Transport and Mains Road 2004. On that basis. bridge decks. the paper outlines key relevant features of an ongoing novel research program at The University of Queensland: The combined reliable data from the unique direct tensile and uniaxial restraint tests would allow to effectively address identified knowledge gaps. ADM-1 Analytical and Design Methods EARLY-AGE THERMAL CRACKING IN CONCRETE STRUCTURES . and long-term service life of wide-ranging types of concrete structures. Keywords: early-age concrete. Cement and Concrete Association of New Zealand 2001.THE ROLE OF ZERO-STRESS TEMPERATURE? Vinh The Ngoc Dao1.3 1 School of Civil Engineering. seriously compromising the performance and aesthetics of concrete structures. The University of Queensland. thermal cracking. Switzerland ABSTRACT Despite significant past research. durability. creep. but also for containment facilities for liquid and hazardous wastes (RILEM Commission 42-CEA 1981. tunnel linings as well as industrial and residential slabs and walls. Switzerland 3 Institute for Building Materials (IfB). Cement and Concrete Association of New Zealand 2001. Bamforth 2007. 2010). remains an ongoing problem of great economic significance worldwide due to a lack of holistic understanding of the underlying phenomena and their influencing factors. The recent increasing use of concrete mixes with higher early strengths and lower water-binder ratios 692 . early-age thermal cracking remains an ongoing major concern to the concrete construction industry. thereby providing a solid basis for more effective control of early-age thermal cracking – a problem of great economic significance worldwide. Schindler and McCullough 2002. Australia 2 Empa. ETH Zurich. zero-stress temperature. Byard. restraint. among others. Bertagnoli. It is argued that knowledge of the spatial and temporal variations of zero-stress temperature. This form of early cracking and its further development at later ages can seriously compromise the integrity. Early-age thermal cracking has thus been identified as among the most prevalent forms of defects in concrete structures worldwide (Neville 2000. 1. Byard. The effective control of such cracking is of particular concern not only for highway pavements. Duy Nguyen1 and Pietro Lura2. 2010. Schindler et al. is critical if reliable crack control is to be realized. Schindler et al. including that caused by restrained thermal deformation.

inducing compressive stress (i.e. often result in early cracking. Importantly. Each term in Equation 1 is also highly time-dependent and affected by many variables. causing tensile stresses to develop. existing cracks developed at early ages would propagate further at later stages due to subsequent shrinkage/loading. Figure 1: Sketch of (a) heat transfer process and (b) deformation and restraint. εthermal: thermal deformation. not by its change due to thermal fluctuation. Due to the low elastic modulus and the significant relaxation of concrete during this heating stage. αc: concrete coefficient of thermal deformation. and ΔT: temperature difference. 693 . R: degree of restraint. Depending on the dynamic balance between the heat generated inside the concrete and the heat exchange with the surroundings (Figure 1a). initially at a rate greater than the heat loss to the environment: This causes a temperature increase. cracking occurs when the tensile stresses arising in the concrete reach its tensile strength [σ] – which can be expressed mathematically as: σ thermal = KREcε thermal = KREcα c ΔT → [σ ] (1) where Ec: elastic modulus of concrete. “What should the reference temperature for ΔT be?”: Since thermal cracking risk is determined by the absolute value of induced thermal stress. which in combination with the low tensile strength and fracture resistance of concrete. these deformations are almost always restrained in practice. K: creep factor. there may be a temperature change or temperature differential. Why early-age concrete thermal cracking? Why zero- stress temperature? When coming into contact with water. cement hydrates – The hydration of cement is a spontaneous and exothermic process with significant heat evolution.appears to have increased the susceptibility of concrete structures to this form of cracking – This trend is further exacerbated by the growing usage of higher strength steel reinforcement that causes wider cracks. they would not cause any cracking (Figure 1b). the compressive stress tends to be small. Consider a concrete specimen as in Figure 2. the reference temperature should correspond to σthermal being zero. However. very often. 2. If the associated thermal deformations of concrete were free to occur. uninsulated and fixed at both ends: • As cement hydrates it generates heat. In principle. negative stress in Figure 2) in the specimen as a result of restrained expansion.

1 and Tz. Tz. The temperature difference ΔT in Equation 1 therefore must be [Tz(t)-T(t)]. As a result.e. • The developed thermal stresses at a given time thus depend not only on the actual concrete temperature T(t) but also on Tz(t) – which provides at least partial explanation for the likely ineffectiveness of crack-control based only on T(t) measurement. From these points and knowledge of temperature and stress in concrete. the greater the cracking risk and more crack-control reinforcement required. the induced thermal stress in concrete is vastly different for different thickness-profiles of zero-stress temperature Tz. resulting in possible significant tensile stress when the temperature has equilibrated. as typically adopted in current practice. heat loss becomes dominant and the concrete cools and contracts. the concrete stress due to restrained thermal deformation becomes less tensile. and therefore cracking risk is reduced.2 are termed zero-stress temperatures. negative [Tz(t)-T(t)] will correspond to compressive thermal stress.1 and Tz. • Over time. concrete stress due to restrained thermal deformation is zero at Tz. the higher the resulting tensile stress. Accordingly. variation of zero- stress temperature over time Tz(t) can be established: • When the concrete temperature T(t) is smaller than Tz(t) [that is. Equation 1 then becomes: σ thermal = KREcε thermal = KREcα c ΔT (2) = KREcα c [Tz ( t ) − T( t )] Figure 2: Illustration of temperature and stress evolution. The following two examples further demonstrate this: • Example 1 for a slab-on-ground (Figure 3a): For the same concrete temperature T(t). • Example 2 for a wall (Figure 3b): For the same concrete temperature T over the wall thickness. the rate of heat generation progressively reduces. During this cooling phase. when the zero-stress temperature is lowered from Tz1 to Tz2. It follows that: • The larger the ΔT. In Figure 2. concrete stress gradually reduces to zero and becomes tensile (i. the concrete is more mature with much higher elastic modulus and increasingly smaller stress relaxation due to ongoing hydration.2. 694 . [Tz(t)- T(t)] being positive]. the restrained thermal stress will be tensile. positive stress in Figure 2). • Conversely.

To illustrate. Springenschmid 1994. As a result. otherwise. Dux and Dao 2012). Indeed. a. Figure 3: Zero-stress temperature Tz and its importance. several studies have reported the inadequacy of using this simple concrete temperature criterion to control the risk of early-age thermal cracking (Mangold and Springenschmid 1994. b. our current approach to combating early-age thermal cracking generally has no mention of Tz(t) and simply limits the difference between the mean temperatures of the restrained and the restraining concrete members to a value of between 20 and 25 oC. T= 20 oC. lowering Tz during construction by adopting appropriate mix designs and construction practices is of paramount importance. the thermal-induced stress in mature concrete (Equation 2) is dependent on Tz that is already established within the first several days after placement. Another critical gap is how Tz evolves beyond the first heat cycles and factors influencing this evolvement have never been investigated: Imagine extending Tz curves in Figure 3a to a later age while keeping in mind Equation 2. For a slab-on-ground. it can be seen that whether Tz remains constant or decreases over time would have significantly different implications on the role of early thermal control: • If Tz remains constant over time. for a concrete member with Ec= 30 GPa. αc=10-5. Despite the significance of zero-stress temperature Tz(t) as clearly demonstrated above. However. the thermal stress in concrete could be reduced four times by lowering Tz from 60 oC to 30 oC: o 60 C • If Tz is as high as 60 oC: σ thermal = KREcα c [Tz ( t ) − T ( t )] = 12KR (MPa) • If Tz can be reduced to 30oC: o 1 o 30 C σ thermal = KREcα c [Tz ( t ) − T ( t )] = 3KR = σ thermal 60 C (MPa) 4 695 . it is the restrained thermal strain and the associated stress causing cracking (being function of [Tz(t)-T(t)] as in Equation 2 instead of only [T(t)]) that should be limited. For a wall. but offered limited practical alternative solutions. significant crack-control reinforcement is required.

Outline of Experimental program To effectively address the knowledge gaps discussed above. The uniaxial restraint test (Figure 5) is used to investigate zero-stress temperature. Notable features of this unique test setup include: • The air bearing box to provide a uniform air cushion to float the test specimen that effectively eliminates friction between the specimen and the supporting base. tensile strain capacity. namely direct tensile and uniaxial restraint tests. Two major test set-ups relevant to the discussion in this paper. If this is the case. including: elastic modulus. fracture characteristics. A schematic diagram of this test setup is shown in Figure 4. and tensile creep. the resulting tensile stress will correspondingly become smaller: Requirement for controlling Tz during construction and for crack-control reinforcement would thus be substantially lower. creep effect and degree of restraint. tensile strength. a novel integrated research approach has been proposed at The University of Queensland. are briefed in the following. autogenous and thermal deformation. • The novel application of Digital Image Correlation (DIC) that enables the desired deformation to be reliably captured in a non-contact way. The direct tensile testing system is used to reliably capture the complete tensile stress- strain curves of concrete from as early as immediately after casting – The reliable data collected allows determination of several critical tensile properties of concrete. Figure 4: Direct tensile test setup and typical stress-displacement curve. • On the other hand. there does not seem any reported study on such Tz evolution in the available literature. knowledge of Tz development over time is critical if reliable crack control is to be achieved. clarification also needs to be established for such questions as: Decreasing rate of Tz over time? Influencing factors? Tz values to be used in structural design of crack-control reinforcement? Therefore. if Tz decreases over time. 3. However. two parallel series of concrete specimens are subject to identical temperature variations with no 696 . Australia. Basically.

the time history of concrete temperature and deformation of test specimen over the region of interest will be recorded via thermocouples. activating the step motor for the next cycle. the high degree of control offered in the uniaxial restraint test and the presence of both a free deformation and a restrained specimen also allows the (i) separation of autogenous shrinkage and thermal deformation. (ii) assessment of creep effect K. CONCLUSIONS This paper has clearly highlighted major knowledge gaps related to early-age thermal cracking and the need for addressing such gaps. The load is then kept constant until the threshold strain is reached again. the displacement recovery system f is activated to load the specimen until the desired degree of restraint R is achieved. laser sensors and Digital Image Correlation. making plastic/drying shrinkage negligible to allow the evaluation of the effect of temperature and autogenous deformations: • The unrestrained specimen has one end fixed and the other end free to move. On that basis. • The other specimen is restrained at the desired degree of restraint R: One end of this specimen is fixed and the other is movable.…) cast using known concrete mixtures and curing measures. When the adjustable end displaces up to a chosen threshold strain (~0. 4. Importantly.001 mm). is critical if reliable crack control is to be achieved. During testing. strain gages. The time-evolution of concrete temperature T(t) recorded at different locations allows to evaluate (i) the spatial and temporal variation of Tz and (ii) the degree of restraint R. (iii) re-evaluation of the degree of restraint R. It has been argued that knowledge of the spatial and temporal variations of zero-stress temperature.moisture interaction with surroundings. key relevant features of an ongoing 697 . Thermocouples and strain gages will also be installed at carefully-chosen locations in a number of concrete elements (walls. among others. Figure 5: Uniaxial restrained test setup. slabs.

"The importance of concrete temperature control during concrete pavement construction in hot weather conditions. F. Rao (2010). Cement and Concrete Association of New Zealand (2001). and V. Early-age Cracking. Thermal cracking in concrete at early ages. Dao (2012)." Journal of the Transportation Research Board(1813): 3-10. (2000). Why are temperature-related criteria so unreliable for predicting thermal cracking at early ages? Thermal cracking in concrete at early ages. G. Barnes and A. REFERENCES Bamforth. London. RILEM Commission 42-CEA (1981). Neville. Springenschmid (1994). Schindler. thereby enabling effective control of early-age thermal cracking – a problem of great economic significance worldwide. Bertagnoli. F. McCullough (2002). Mangold.. W." Materials and Structures 33(10): 655-664. Springenschmid. Byard. E & FN Spon: 361-368. Tondolo and G. CIRIA. N. "Properties of set concrete at early ages . A. "Early age cracking of massive concrete piers." Transportation Research Record (2164): 122-131. UK. Queensland Department of Transport and Mains Road (2004). and B. Springenschmid." Materials and Structures/Materiaux et Constructions 14(84): 399-450. T. Early-age thermal crack control in concrete (CIRIA C660). E. M. Dux. A. A.State-of-the-art report. Comparison of industrial concrete floor slabs in the Auckland and Christchurch Markets: 40 pp. Mancini (2011).novel research program at The University of Queensland have been briefed. K. R. P. B. Combined reliable data from the unique direct tensile and uniaxial restraint tests would allow to achieve the intended research aims. Bridge Inspection Manual . Ed. R. "Good reinforced concrete in the Arabian Gulf. P. (1994).Part 2: Deterioration Mechanisms: 70... and R. London." Magazine of Concrete Research 63(10): 723-736. R. B. E & FN Spon. (2007). K. "Cracking tendency of bridge deck concrete. F. 698 View publication stats . London. Schindler. Concrete Institute of Australia.