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Materials and Design 30 (2009) 4286–4292

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Materials and Design

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Mechanical, durability and microstructural characteristics of

ultra-high-strength self-compacting concrete incorporating steel fibers
Amr S. El-Dieb *
United Arab Emirates University, College of Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, P.O. Box 17555, Al Ain, United Arab Emirates

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Few researches are carried out in the Gulf area to study the feasibility of producing UHSC using available
Received 1 April 2009 local materials with the inclusion of steel fibers, and investigate its properties and durability. Local avail-
Accepted 17 April 2009 able materials and the inclusion of steel fibers with different volume fractions are investigated to produce
Available online 23 April 2009
UHSC. Different mechanical properties are evaluated (compressive strength and splitting tensile
strength). Durability of the concrete in high sulfate and high temperature condition (i.e. resembling Gulf
Keywords: environment) is evaluated. Also, chloride permeability, bulk chloride diffusion and electrical resistivity
Ultra-high-strength self-compacting fiber-
are evaluated. Test results indicate that local material can produce UHS–FRC. The ductility of the concrete
reinforced concrete (A)
Mechanical and durability characteristics
is greatly improved by the incorporation of steel fibers and increases as the fiber volume increases. Chlo-
(E) ride permeability, bulk chloride diffusion and electrical resistivity are affected by the volume fraction of
Microstructure (F) steel fibers. The inclusion of steel fibers did not have significant effect on the durability of the concrete in
the sulfate environment. Microstructural investigations of UHS–FRC concrete were also performed. The
microstructural investigations shed some light on the nature of interfacial bond of fibers and the cement
paste and its effect on its mechanical and fracture properties.
Ó 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction Mixture proportioning of UHSC mixtures is more critical than

that of normal strength concrete (NSC) since, usually, specially se-
The construction of high-rise buildings and mega projects lected pozzolanic and chemical admixtures are employed, and a
around the world, and the increasing demands of owners and low water-to-binder ratio (w/b) is considered essential. Optimum
designers led to the increasing demand on high-strength concrete mixture proportions could be obtained after a greater number of
(HSC). It should be noted that the definition of HSC has changed trial batches than needed for NSC [6]. There is no single method
over the years and will no doubt continue to change. Progress in for the proportioning of UHSC, and this leads to different
concrete materials science and technology during the last 30 years approaches to the issue [6]. Inclusion of steel fibers with UHSC
has far exceeded that made during the previous 150 years [1]. mixtures is more critical than that of NSC, especially with the very
Ultra-high-strength concrete (UHSC) is a new class of concrete that low water-to-binder ratio (w/b) of UHSC which is considered
has been the result of such development. This new type of concrete essential. Steel fibers will have a great impact on the workability
is characterized with very high compressive strength; higher than of UHSC which will need to increase the water-to-binder (w/b) ra-
100 MPa. tio to maintain the workability, thereafter, reducing the concrete
Even though UHSC features high compressive strength, it shows strength. The development and use of self-compacting concrete
very brittle failure behavior and therefore a limited post-crack (SCC) has opened the avenue for resolving the workability issue.
behavior. UHSC fails explosively without any omen [2]. By the The applicability of steel fibers with self-compacting concrete has
addition of fibers the load-displacement behavior and conse- been investigated and has proven to be feasible [7,8].
quently the ductility and fracture toughness can be improved UHSC and UHS–FRC seems to be promising materials for special
[3–5]. This can be traced back to the fact, that the fibers are able applications and structures. But this would not be achieved with-
to transfer emerging loads by bridging the cracks. The use of fibers out studying its performance before being widely adopted in con-
to produce ultra-high-strength fiber-reinforced concrete (UHS– struction [1,9]. Also, the behavior of structural elements made with
FRC) will enable the structures to have innovative features and UHSC and UHS–FRC needs better understanding, together with de-
open new areas for application for UHSC. sign provisions.
The objectives of this study is to investigate producing UHSC
with self-compacting characteristics using locally available materi-
* Tel.: +971 3 7133042; fax: +971 3 7623154. als and investigate effect of varying mixture parameters on the
E-mail address: compressive strength and the effect of incorporating steel fibers

0261-3069/$ - see front matter Ó 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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A.S. El-Dieb / Materials and Design 30 (2009) 4286–4292 4287

on the mechanical properties and durability characteristics of the for self-compacted concrete (SCC) [10,11]. The admixture dosage
concrete. was kept constant in order to evaluate the effect of including fibers
with different dosages on the slump flow of the mix.
2. Experimental methods Cubes and cylinders were used to evaluate the compressive
strength and the splitting tensile strength of the concrete respec-
Here, the effect of using locally available materials on producing tively. Tests are conducted at different test ages; 28–56–91 days
ultra-high-strength concrete with self-compacting characteristics of age. Also, compression test is conducted at 7 days of age to show
was investigated. Also, the effect of incorporating steel fibers with the strength gain with time. All experiments were performed on
different dosage on the mechanical properties and durability of three specimen replicates. The average values are used in the dis-
UHSC is evaluated. cussion of the test results.
For durability characteristics, several tests are used to evaluate
2.1. Materials and mix proportions the performance of the concrete in different aggressive environ-
ments. Rapid chloride permeability test (ASTM C1202), concrete
Cement used in this study was ordinary Portland cement which
conforms to (ASTM Type I) and (BS EN 197 CEM I). Silica fume was Table 1
Variation of main mix composition and compressive strength.
used as mineral additive; it has a specific gravity of 2.2, and a spe-
cific surface of 152,000 cm2/gm (according to manufacturer data Mix composition A B C D E
sheet). The coarse aggregate was natural crushed stone from Ras Total cementing materials (kg/m3) 775 775 900 900 900
Al Khaima of nominal size of 10 mm (3/8 in.), a specific gravity of Silica fume (%) 15% 15% 17.5% 17.5% 17.5%
2.65, and absorption% of 1.3%. The coarse aggregate is washed Water/Binder ratio 0.23 0.23 0.23 0.24 0.24
Water/Cement ratio 0.27 0.27 0.27 0.28 0.28
and left to be air dried to saturated surface dry condition before
Fine aggregate (%) 45% 60% 60% 50% 100%
being used. Two types of sand were used in the study; crushed nat- – Coarse sand (%) 76% 100% 70% 70% 70%
ural stone sand from Ras Al Khaima with fineness modulus of 3.5 – Dune sand (%) 24% 0% 30% 30% 30%
and specific gravity of 2.63, and dune sand from Al Ain area with Coarse aggregate (%) 55% 40% 40% 50% 0%
fineness modulus of 0.88 and specific gravity of 2.63. A modified 28 days compressive strength (MPa) 88 92 110 95 85
91 days compressive strength (MPa) 105 110 135 115 100
polycarboxylic ether superplasticizer is used in the study (GELI-
NUM SKY 512Ò); it complies with ASTM C 494 Types F and G,
and ASTM C1017 Types I and II. The admixture is light-brown in col-
or, with a specific gravity of 1.1, pH value 5–8 and alkali content as 800
Na2O equivalent of 0.26% (according to manufacturer data sheet).
One type of steel fibers is used in the investigation; (HELIX
5-25Ò). The fibers are twisted with a triangular cross sectional 775
shape, with an average dimensions 0.5 mm and average length of
Slump Flow (mm)

25 mm, as shown in Fig. 1. The aspect ratio of the fibers (l/d) is 750
50. The specific gravity is 7.9 (manufacturer data sheet). The steel
fibers are zinc galvanized wires with silver color. The recom-
mended dosages of the fibers by the manufacturer are divided into 725
three categories, and the maximum dosage for each is 6, 20 and
40 kg/m3. This corresponds to fiber volume fractions (Vf) of
0.08%, 0.12% and 0.52%, which is used in the study. 700
The effect of varying mix proportions on the compressive
strength of the concrete is investigated in order to finalize the 675
UHSC-SCC mix proportions. The UHSC-SCC reference mix propor- 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6
tions are then used in the study to investigate the effect of incorpo- Steel Fibers Volume Fraction Vf (%)
rating various volume fractions of the steel fibers on the
mechanical properties and durability of the concrete mix. Three Fig. 2. Slump flow of fresh concrete with different steel fiber volume fractions.
volume fractions (Vf) of the steel fibers are used (0.08%, 0.12%,
and 0.52%). 160
Vf = 0%
2.2. Testing procedure 150
Vf = 0.08%
Compressive Strength (MPa)

140 Vf = 0.12%
For fresh concrete, the slump flow test is used to judge the flow- Vf = 0.52%
ability characteristics of the concrete mixes. The admixture dosage
is adjusted for the control mix (i.e. no fibers, Vf = 0) in order to have 120
a slump flow higher than the minimum value of 600 mm required 110





7 14 21 28 35 42 49 56 63 70 77 84 91
Age (days)

Fig. 1. Helix fibers showing its twist and cross section (manufacturer data sheet). Fig. 3. Compressive strength with age for different steel fiber volume fraction.
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4288 A.S. El-Dieb / Materials and Design 30 (2009) 4286–4292

Vf = 0% 0.08% 0.12% 0.52%

Fig. 4. Effect of steel fiber inclusion on failure of concrete specimens.

Splitting Tensile Strength (MPa)

9.0 28 days
8.0 56 days

7.0 91 days







0 0.08 0.12 0.52
Steel Fibers Volume Fraction Vf (%)

Fig. 5. Splitting tensile strength for different steel fiber volume fraction. Fig. 7. Failure of splitting tensile cylinders specimens with steel fibers.

7.0 700
Total Charge Passing (coulombs)
Splitting Tensile Strength / Compressive

600 28 days
56 days
500 91 days
Strength (Ratio)




3.0 0
0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0 0.08 0.12 0.52
Steel Fibers Volume Fraction Vf (%) Steel Fibers Volume Fraction Vf (%)

Fig. 6. Effect of steel fiber on splitting tensile strength/compressive strength ratio. Fig. 8. Total charge passing in RCPT for different steel fibers volume fraction.

electrical resistivity and chloride bulk diffusion test are used to

evaluate the concrete durability against reinforcement corrosion sured at different time intervals after immersion in the sulfate
and chloride attack and chloride induced corrosion. Also, concrete solution (3 6, 9 and 12 months); the strength is compared with
sorptivity according to ASTM C1585 is conducted as an indirect test the original 28 days.
to evaluate the concrete water permeability which could be used Finally, microstructural features of the concrete are examined
as an indicator for other aggressive environments. All tests are using Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). This investigation
conducted at different test ages; 28–56–91 days of age. All exper- helps to understand the mechanical properties and durability per-
iments were performed on three replicates, and the average values formance of the concrete.
are used in the discussion of the test results. The exposure of con-
crete to high concentration sulfate solution (5% by weight sodium 3. Results and discussions
sulfate) and under high temperature (50 °C) is used to evaluate the
concrete durability in aggressive sulfate exposure resembling the Several concrete mixtures with varying mix proportions are
Gulf environment. The concrete is exposed to the sulfate solution examined to evaluate the effect on the concrete compressive
at age 28 days. The compressive strength of the concrete is mea- strength. Table 1 gives the main mix composition variations and
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A.S. El-Dieb / Materials and Design 30 (2009) 4286–4292 4289

140 Relative Change in Compressive Strength (%)

Immersion Period in Na2SO4 Solution (months)

Vf = 0% Vf = 0.08% -15 -10 -5 0 5 10
Vf = 0.12% Vf = 0.52%
Concrete Resistivity (

Vf = 0% Vf = 0.08% 3

Vf = 0.12% Vf = 0.52%



40 12
28 35 42 49 56 63 70 77 84 91
Age (days)

Fig. 9. Effect of steel fibers volume fraction on concrete electrical resistivity.

Fig. 10. Effect of immersion in Na2SO4 solution for different time periods on
compressive strength.
the 28 and 91 days compressive strength for five mixes. From the
results it could be seen that Mix C yielded the highest compressive
strength to be considered as UHSC (>100 MPa at 28 days). This mix strength increases with age for all mixes. It could also be seen from
is used in studying the effect of incorporating steel fibers on the the results that the inclusion of steel fibers improved the compres-
mechanical properties, durability characteristics and microstruc- sive strength of the concrete. The most important observation dur-
tural features. ing testing is the significant change of the failure mode of the
concrete as the steel fiber are included in the mix and also as the
3.1. Fresh concrete steel fiber volume fraction increases. The failure mode changes
from sudden explosive failure resulting in complete damage of
The effect of including steel fibers with various fiber volume the specimen into a more ductile failure in which the specimen
fractions on the flowability characteristics of the concrete is evalu- is still intact after failure; Fig. 4 shows the cube specimens for
ated by the slump flow test. The slump flow of the concrete mixes the different mixes after failure. It could be noticed that as the fiber
was affected by the inclusion of the steel fibers. The slump flow volume fraction increases the specimens are more intact. This is
values remained above the minimum required value for SCC due to the strong bond between fibers and the concrete, and the ef-
[10,11]. Fig. 2 shows the effect of fibers volume fraction (Vf) on fect of fibers in preventing concrete from sudden explosive failure.
the slump flow value. As seen a reduction of about 12% was noted The ratio between compressive strength at earlier ages and late
with the highest steel fiber dosage (0.52%). If slump value is re- ages (i.e. 28 days/7 days ratio, 56 days/28 days ratio and 91 days/
quired to remain unaffected, admixture dosage should be adjusted. 28 days ratio) ranges between 1.1 and 1.3. This indicates strength
gain at late ages which could be attributed to the pozzolanic reac-
3.2. Mechanical properties tion of the silica fume.
Splitting tensile strength indicated significant increase in
Fig. 3 shows the compressive strength results with age for the strength due to the inclusion of steel fibers. Fig. 5 shows the split-
different mixes and the effect of steel fibers. The compressive ting tensile strength with age and for different steel fibers volume

Table 2
Bulk chloride diffusion coefficient and sorptivity values for mixes with different steel fibers volume fraction.
Age (days) Bulk diffusion coefficient (10 m2/s) Sorptivity (mm/min1/2)
Vf (%) Vf (%)
0% 0.08% 0.12% 0.52% 0% 0.08% 0.12% 0.52%
28 5.3 5.9 6.0 5.8 0.0353 0.0365 0.0372 0.0385
56 2.3 2.5 2.9 3.0 0.0350 0.0360 0.0368 0.0377
91 1.1 1.3 1.4 1.5 0.0343 0.0346 0.0361 0.0375

Table 3
Average compressive strength after immersion in 5% Na2SO4 solution and 50 °C.

Average compressive strength (MPa)

Vf = 0% Vf = 0.08% Vf = 0.12% Vf = 0.52%
28 days strength 100 112 114 123
Immersion period (months)
3 107 120 122 132
6 101 113 114 125
9 93.5 104 106 115
12 88 99 100 109
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fractions. Also, Fig. 6 shows the average ratio between splitting ten- sion. Fig. 8 shows the total charge passing recorded in the RCPT. Re-
sile strength and compressive strength. It could be noticed that the sults indicates an increase in the total charge passing as the steel
ratio increases significantly as the fiber volume fraction increase, a fiber volume fraction increases, this could be attributed to the elec-
ratio of 6.0 is observed for fiber volume fraction 0.52%. The ratio be- trical conductivity of the fibers. For all mixes the total charge pass-
tween tensile strength and compressive strength for UHSC is much ing is reduced with age. All chloride ions permeability values
lower than that of normal strength concrete, even after the inclu- recorded indicate very low permeability according to ASTM
sion of fibers. From the test results, the improvement in the tensile C1202 classification. Concrete electrical resistivity values support
strength of the concrete without fibers is not significant compared the findings in the RCPT test, Fig. 9. It should be noted that the resis-
to the improvement of the compressive strength. This indicates tivity values recorded for all mixes are very high which indicates
how brittle the produced material is, and explains its brittle explo- very good protection to steel reinforcement against corrosion.
sive failure. It could be seen from the results that the increase in the As for the bulk chloride diffusion coefficients and sorptivity val-
splitting tensile strength is significant as the steel fibers volume ues, given in Table 2, there is no much change due to the inclusion
fraction increases which indicates a more ductile failure, the of steel fibers, which is contrary to the results of the RCPT and elec-
improvement ranges from 92% to 111% for the highest fiber volume trical resistivity. This could be due to the fact that chloride ions
fraction. The tested cylinders did not completely split into two sep- migration and water movement depends mainly on the micro-
arate halves at failure due to the inclusion of fibers, Fig. 7. structure of the cement paste. Since the cement paste is almost
the same for all mixes the variation obtained is within experimen-
3.3. Durability tal sensitivity. The difference in the bulk diffusion values ranges
from 9% to 25%, while that for the sorptivity values ranges from
Rapid chloride permeability test (RCPT), concrete electrical 1% to 9%. These findings indicate dense microstructure even with
resistivity and chloride bulk diffusion test are conducted to evalu- the inclusion of fibers with different volume fractions. Bulk diffu-
ate the concrete durability against chloride attack and chloride sion coefficient values and sorptivity values indicates high level
induced corrosion and protection of reinforcement against corro- of durability for aggressive environments. It should be noted that

Fig. 11. Dense microstructure of the cement paste indicating very good compaction.

Fig. 12. Interface between fractured aggregate particle and cement paste.

Fig. 13. Interface between intact aggregate particle and cement paste.
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A.S. El-Dieb / Materials and Design 30 (2009) 4286–4292 4291

3.4. Microstructural features

Microstructural investigation of the UHS–FRC concrete showed

very dense microstructure owing to the very well consolidation of
the concrete under its own weight as SCC. Fig. 11 is a general Scan-
ning Electron Microscope (SEM) micrograph of a fractured concrete
specimen at low and high magnification power showing very
dense microstructure of the cement paste.
Interface between aggregate and cement paste examination
showed very strong bond between aggregate particles and the ce-
ment paste. Fig. 12 shows SEM micrograph of a fractured concrete
specimen including a fractured aggregate particle embedded in ce-
ment paste. At higher magnification power it could be seen the
very strong bond between the aggregate and the cement paste,
that it seems there is no border line between both. Fig. 13 shows
a SEM micrograph of a fractured concrete specimen with an intact
aggregate particle, it could be noticed how the cement paste is still
Fig. 14. Cement paste residues on steel fibers. bonded to the aggregate and cement paste is still bonded to the
aggregate even after fracture. At higher magnification levels, it
bulk chloride diffusion coefficient values and sorptivity values de- could be seen how dense cement paste embodies the aggregate
creases with age. As for the durability of the concrete in the sulfate particle and the disappearance of the transition zone.
environment, the concrete showed excellent resistance to the high By examining the microstructure around fiber particles it could
sulfate and high temperature exposure condition. Table 3 gives the be seen how the interface between the fibers and the cement paste
average compressive strength for each mix at the different immer- shows very good bond between the fibers and the cement paste,
sion periods and the 28 days strength (i.e. strength at time of Fig. 14 shows cement paste residues on the surface of fiber after
immersion). Test results showed an increase in strength for early being pulled-out during specimen fracture indicating very strong
immersion period (3 months), this could be attributed to the high bond. By further examining other fibers it was observed the
temperature which might have caused further reactions especially existence of cement paste embodying steel fibers, Figs. 15 and 16.
the pozzolanic one. The reduction in the strength up to 12 months Also, it was noticed the existence of microcracking in the cement
immersion period for the different mixes is around 12% which indi- paste in the vicinity of the fibers. These observations demonstrates
cates slight effect of the concrete by the exposure condition. Also, very strong bond between fibers and the cement paste. Furthermore,
no significant effect is noticed for including different fiber volume the micrographs show fibers being pulled-out and internal
fractions, as it is mainly affected by the impermeability of the con- microcracks in the cement paste around it as two toughening mech-
crete, Fig. 10 shows the relative change in the compressive anisms for energy consumption in the fiber concrete matrix that do
strength after immersion with respect to the 28 days strength. not exist in conventional concrete. Such mechanisms help UHS–FRC

Fig. 15. Interface at fiber’s surface showing dense cement paste embodying the fiber.

Fig. 16. Cement paste on the fiber’s surface and very dense cement paste around the fiber with fine microcracks.
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4292 A.S. El-Dieb / Materials and Design 30 (2009) 4286–4292

concrete of achieving the significant enhancement in fracture tough- – Potential use of this material includes concrete structures such
ness and changing the failure mode to more ductile one as observed as high-rise buildings with high fracture toughness/energy
earlier. demand such as those used in seismic regions.
– With its very low ionic diffusion and permeability, and water
transport through the concrete it could be used in industrial
4. Conclusion and nuclear waste storage facilities.
– Behavior of structural members such as columns using UHS–FRC
From the results obtained in this study the following could be is under investigation in order to study the effect on the struc-
concluded: tural design using such material.

– Available local materials in UAE; coarse and fine aggregates from

Ras Al Khaima, dune sand from Al Ain, ordinary Portland cement Acknowledgement
from, silica fume and polycarboxlic ether polymer superplasti-
cizer could be used to produce UHSC. This work was financially supported by the Research Affairs at
– Dune sand could be used as filler in improving the flowability of the UAE University under a contract No. 11-34-07-11/07. Also, con-
the SCC. tribution of BASF-UAE is greatly appreciated for providing the
– Incorporating steel fibers is essential in changing the brittle fail- chemical admixture used in this study. Finally, the contribution
ure mode of UHSC into a more ductile one. of HELIX in providing the steel fibers used in the study is
– Mechanical properties are improved by the incorporation of acknowledged.
steel fibers in UHSC especially splitting tensile strength. The
improvement increases as the fiber volume fraction investigated References
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