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J. Inst. Eng. India Ser.

A (June 2018) 99(2):391–405


State-of-the-Art Review on the Characteristics of Surfactants

and Foam from Foam Concrete Perspective
Sritam Swapnadarshi Sahu1 • Indu Siva Ranjani Gandhi1 • Selija Khwairakpam1

Received: 10 November 2017 / Accepted: 8 February 2018 / Published online: 19 February 2018
Ó The Institution of Engineers (India) 2018

Abstract Foam concrete finds application in many areas, Introduction

generally as a function of its relatively lightweight and its
beneficial properties in terms of reduction in dead load on The most basic definition of foam concrete which is clas-
structure, excellent thermal insulation and contribution to sified as light weight concrete (LWC) is that it is a cement
energy conservation. For production of foam concrete with paste or mortar with air voids entrapped by suitable foam-
desired properties, stable and good quality foam is the key ing agent. The key attributes of foam concrete are its low
requirement. It is to be noted that the selection of surfactant self-weight, high flowability and excellent thermal insula-
and foam production parameters play a vital role in the tion characteristics. It can be made with wide range of
properties of foam which in turn affects the properties of densities (300–1850 kg/m3) and hence it is a versatile
foam concrete. However, the literature available on the material that can be tailored for different applications
influence of characteristics of foaming agent and foam on (structural, partition and insulation grades) [1–3]. Foam
the properties of foam concrete are rather limited. Hence, a concrete has found wide usage in applications like void
more systematic research is needed in this direction. The filling, ground stabilization, floor and roof screeding, sub-
focus of this work is to provide a review on characteristics base for roads, building panels, fire protection wall, sound
of surfactant (foaming agent) and foam for use in foam and heat insulation [4–6]. The most obvious advantage of
concrete production. foam concrete is its low density which economises the
design of supporting structures and thus finds application in
Keywords Foam concrete  Surfactant  seismic resistant structures [7]. Another significant advan-
Critical micelle concentration  Viscosity  tage is its ability to absorb industrial wastes and also acts as
Surfactant concentration a highly competitive substitute for clay bricks which could
save depletion of fertile top soil. Though it is widely used
in countries like Netherland, Sweden, Germany, USA,
Switzerland and UK [8–10] its extensive usage in India is
limited by its technical and engineering unfamiliarity.
Also, most of the available imported foaming agents and
foam generator are not cost effective which necessitates
more quantum of research in this direction. Review of
literature indicates that many researchers have reviewed
the history on applications of foam concrete, constituent
materials, mechanical and functional properties [3, 11–13].
However, the literature available on the influence of
& Indu Siva Ranjani Gandhi characteristics of foaming agent and foam on the properties
of foam concrete are rather limited. Also most of the
Department of Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of information on surfactants is presented in the form of
Technology Guwahati, Guwahati, India patent documents and very limited information appears in

392 J. Inst. Eng. India Ser. A (June 2018) 99(2):391–405

the form of published academic paper. Nevertheless it effects of foaming. The adsorption of a surfactant from
should be realised that for production of foam concrete solution on to a surface depends on the concentration.
with desired properties, stable and good quality foam is the Critical micelle concentration (CMC) of surfactant indi-
key requirement. Hence, a more systematic research is cates the concentration at which monolayer adsorption is
needed in this direction. Against these background issues, complete and the surface active properties are at optimum.
this paper attempts to provide a critical review on char- At concentration above CMC, the molecules have no
acteristics of surfactant (foaming agent) and foam for use longer any site available for adsorption and hence they
in foam concrete production. form micelles. These micelles have no surface activity
since only the monomers are the cause of surface activity.
Any further increase in the surfactant concentration above
Surfactant CMC does not affect the number of monomers in the
solution [18]. Hence, there is a considerable practical
Surfactants are particular type of molecules that contain interest in the CMC as it represents in practice, the lowest
both hydrophobic and hydrophilic groups. Owing to their concentration needed to get maximum benefit in terms of
unique characteristics, surfactants can self-assemble spon- surface activity. CMC depends on the length of the chain of
taneously in solutions with various morphologies or enrich the hydrophobic group. It is reported that CMC decreases
at the interface to reduce the interfacial tension [14]. These logarithmically as the number of carbons in the chain of a
surfactants show its versatility by finding its application in homologous series increases [19]. The amount of foam
many industries like foaming in chemical industries, goes through a maximum as the chain length of the
cleaning in automobiles, solubilisation in pharmaceuticals, hydrophobic group increases (up to a certain extent) but the
emulsifying in drilling muds etc. [15, 16]. Furthermore, solubility gets affected [20]. Shorter the chain length
another important application is as foaming agent for (number of carbon atoms in the chain (C) \ 8) the sur-
stable foam production in foam concrete industries. factant is quite soluble in water, but its surfactant proper-
Foaming agents are the substances which, when introduced ties are minimal. On the other hand, the surfactant with
into a liquid, confers on it and possesses ability to produce average chain length (C between 10 and 18) is sparingly
foam [17]. Not all surfactants can act as a good foaming soluble and has maximum surface active properties.
agent which can produce a stable foam required for pro- However, when the chain length is very much greater (C
duction of good quality foam concrete. Hence, selection of above 18) both the solubility and surface active properties
surfactant plays a vital role in the properties of foam like are reported to be minimum [15]. But in practice formu-
foam density, foam output rate, foam capacity, foam sta- lations need good solubility as concentrates need to be
bility which in turns affect the properties of foam concrete. diluted. Hence it is to be noted that practical formulae are a
In the present context, a comprehensive summary of vari- compromise between surface active properties and
ous properties of surfactant and a classification based on solubility.
different parameters will be described in detail in sub-
sections below. Viscosity

Properties of Surfactant Viscosity is a property arising from the collision between

neighbouring particles in a fluid that moves with different
The characteristics of surfactant has significant impact on velocities. As the number of particles in a fluid increases
properties of foam as it affects the surface tension and gas (with increase in concentration of surfactant), the viscosity
liquid interfacial properties. In this paper, the authors focus increases [21]. The form of micellar structure varies with
on the important characteristics of surfactant like adsorp- concentration, which could be attributed to the variation in
tion, solubility and viscosity as described in the following viscosity. More commonly the viscosity is defined in terms
paragraphs. Table 1 summarizes the important character- of surface viscosity and bulk viscosity. Both the parameters
istics of surfactant and foam studied by researchers from are important from point of view of stability of foam as
foam concrete perspective. they affect the drainage of foam significantly. The shear
velocity of monolayers spread adsorbed either on the sur-
Adsorption, Solubility and Critical Micellar Concentration face of liquid or at the interface between the liquids is
called as surface viscosity. Researchers have found from
The major characteristics of a surfactant is that it is at a their studies that multilayer nature imparts higher viscosity
higher concentration at the surface than in the bulk of a to film than a normal surfactant monolayer [22]. Also the
liquid. This phenomenon is known as adsorption [15]. This foaming solution with appreciable viscosity can result in
adsorption at air/liquid interface gives the surface active foam with high stability. This is because the drainage rate

J. Inst. Eng. India Ser. A (June 2018) 99(2):391–405 393

Table 1 Tabulation showing properties of surfactant, foam and the related factors investigated from foam concrete perspective
Sl. Property Interrelationship and Major findings
No. other related factors

1 Surface activity a, c, e, f, g, h, l–o Studies have proved that at surfactant concentration above CMC, no site is available for
adsorption and hence there is no improvement in surface activity [18]
Amount of foam goes through maximum as the chain length of hydrophobic group
increases, but the solubility gets affected [20]
2 Viscosity of a, c, e, f, h, i, l–o Viscosity increases with increase in surfactant concentration [20]
surfactant Higher viscous surfactant solution results in foam with high initial density and stability
Solution leading to desirable foam concrete properties [24, 26]
Viscous nature of protein based foaming solution results in uniform microstructure and
enhanced compressive strength of concrete [37, 42–44]
3 Foam stability a–f, i–k, m–o Selection of optimum foam production parameters is very important as it affects foam
density, texture and ultimately the stability of foam and foam concrete mixes [63]
4 Foam texture a–f, i–l, n, o Foam with smaller size bubbles is found to be more stable due to reduction in rate of
drainage [89]. Hence foam with small and spherical bubble is needed to produce foam
concrete with uniform and closed cellular microstructure [37]
5 Foam density a–e, i, k–m, o Foam with high density has thick lamella exhibiting substantially better stability [12]
6 Foam expansion a–e, i, k–o Foam with very high expansion ratio has minimum lamellar thickness resulting in foam
ratio with less stability [116]
Related factors—(a) type of surfactant, (b) method of foam production, (c) surfactant concentration, (d) foam generation pressure, (e) use of
additives, (f) chain length of surfactant, (g) adsorption of surfactant, (h) solubility of surfactant, (i) thickness of foam lamellae, (j) surface
activity, (k) viscosity of surfactant solution, (l) foam stability, (m) foam texture, (n) foam density, (o) foam expansion ratio

of foam produced with more viscous surfactant solution is Classification of Surfactant

lesser [23].
It is also observed that the chain length of surfactants Surfactants may be classified in several ways. The simplest
also affects the viscosity of solution. Straight chain alkyl way to classify the surfactant is on the basis of its origin
group is reported to show increased viscosity and inferior and further classification can be done on basis of charges
solubility compared with similar branched chain surfac- carried by hydrophilic part of surfactant as discussed
tants [15]. Addition of additives like sodium chloride, below.
sodium carbonate and sodium hydroxide can also result in
increase in viscosity of solution due to ‘salt effect’ as Classification of Surfactant Based on Origin
explained based on Le-Chatelier’s principle [24, 25].
In the same line, Siva et al. [24] had improved the Fundamentally, surfactants are classified into natural and
effectiveness of surfactant Sodium Lauryl Sulphate by synthetic type based upon the sources from which they are
adding admixtures like sodium chloride, sodium carbonate obtained. The first recognized natural surfactants can be
and sodium hydroxide. It was reported that the addition of dated back to Egyptian times and were derived by inte-
inorganic salts (sodium chloride, sodium sulphate) to grating both animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts
diluted surfactant solutions (below about 30%) increased [27]. Basically, natural surfactants are biological com-
the viscosity, while addition to concentrated solutions pounds originated from various waste materials, including
decreased the viscosity [26]. The authors had observed that animal and vegetable sources. Some of the animal protein
foam generated with more viscous surfactant solution has sources are keratin (hoof and horn meal), cattle hooves and
high initial density and stability over time. It is reported fish scales, casein, blood, bones of cows, pigs and other
that viscosity of solution has linear relationship with foam remainders of animal carcasses [28]. There are many plant
density and bubble size. The fresh and hardened densities, products which are naturally surface active due to the
compressive strength and water absorption of foam con- presence of a compound known as ‘‘saponin’’ and they
crete produced with high viscous foaming solution were occur in different parts of a large number of plant species.
also found to be desirable which showed the effectiveness Some of the saponin rich plant species are are soaproot
of the improvement of viscosity of foaming solution. (chlorogalum pomeidianum), soapbark (quillaya saponar-
ia), soapberry (sapindus saponaria), soapnut (sapindus
mukurossi) and soapjacob (glinus lotoides) [29, 30].

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Saponins have also been reported in grains of many storage life [45] intense stench and its complicated manu-
important pulses and leguminous plants which include soya facturing process.
bean, chickpea, mungbean, peanuts, lentils and beans [31]. To overcome these limitations of natural type, synthetic
They are also present in other edible plant species like oats, foaming agents are introduced which is basically man-
leek, garlic, asparagus, tea, spinach, sugar beet, sesame and made chemicals that can easily dissolve in water and pro-
yam [30]. duces air bubbles. Table 2 presents an overview of various
The process of manufacture of natural surfactants is not surfactants which have potential for use in foam concrete
that simple and involves many stages such as pre-treat- production as reported in literature. Synthetic type foaming
ment, hydrolysis, neutralization, treatment with preserva- agent has greater degree of application because of its high
tive, homogenization and stabilization [32]. Generally pre- productivity of manufacturing process, strict control over
treatment involves the use of physical processes like its composition and longer storage life [46]. However the
crushing to facilitate size reduction and then steaming major limitation of synthetic foaming agent is the problem
(boiling) followed by hydrolysis [33]. Hydrolysis is noth- of compatibility with other admixtures which are used in
ing but breaking down the protein into its simple compo- concrete. Particularly, the self-flowing nature of foam
nent amino acids [34]. The process of hydrolysis usually concrete necessitates the use of water reducing admixture
gets improved if the size and crystallinity reduction are (WRA) for reduction in water demand. However, the
carried out prior to it [33]. While there are many means of dosage of WRA have to be carefully studied with respect to
achieving the hydrolysis, the most commonly adopted concrete, as it would affect the stability of foam produced
methods are prolonged boiling in a strong acid (hy- with synthetic surfactants [47].
drochloric acid or sulphuric acid) [34] or strong base (-
sodium hydroxide, lime or calcium hydroxide) [32, 35] or Classification of Synthetic Surfactant Based on Charges
using an enzyme [36] to simulate the naturally occurring
hydrolytic process. If the output of the hydrolysed process In general the hydrophobic part of surfactant consists of a
is found to be too alkaline or acidic, then the solution long chain hydrocarbon group whereas the hydrophilic
derived need to be neutralized. Neutralization is a chemical head which can be ionic or non-ionic is a highly polar
reaction in which an acid and a base are made to react group [48]. On the basis of presence or absence of charges
quantitatively with each other. The pH of the neutralized in the polar group of surfactants, they are classified as ionic
solution depends on the strength of the reactants. or non-ionic as discussed below.
In general, all the protein foaming agents are a breeding
ground for growth of microorganism. Because of the pos- Ionic Surfactant Surfactant made up of molecules that
sibility of degradation by bacteria and other microbe [37], have either negatively or positively charged heads are
natural source of protein based foaming agent has to be generally termed as ionic surfactant. Sodium lauryl sul-
disinfected with preservative like formaldehyde [38]. Then phate (SLS) and Cetyltrimethyl ammonium bromide
finally the process of homogenization can be carried out (CTAB) are commonly used ionic surfactants in foaming
with high pressure if the material has to be evenly dis- process [49–51]. Ionic surfactant can contribute to foam
tributed in order to obtain a homogeneous mass [39]. In formation and stabilization because of electrical double
order to improve the performance of foam in terms of layer present at interface which interact with opposing
stability the stabilizers like bone glue [40] can be added to interface to form disjoining pressure and thus results in
the base foaming agent prepared. Despite the complicated more stable foam [52]. These ionic surfactants are further
manufacturing process there is increasing interest on nat- classified into cationic and anionic on basis of specific
ural surfactant because of some unique properties like low charge heads and their properties vary depending on its
toxicity and biodegradable nature. In addition to this, it has charges.
also achieved its fame in greenhouse effect by reducing
Cationic Surfactant
CO2 emission during its manufacture [41]. Also its per-
Cationic surfactants are generally positively charged head
formance when used as foaming agent in concrete has been
group which can be broadly categorised into long chain
reported to be relatively better when compared to synthetic
amines and quaternary ammonium salts [53]. Mostly
surfactant as the protein based foam has uniformly dis-
cationic surfactants are water soluble when there is only
tributed smaller size bubbles [42] with viscous liquid in
one long hydrophobe. However, the product becomes
lamellar layer resulting in more stable foam [37, 42] which
sparingly disperse in water and soluble in organic solvents
resulted in enhancement of compressive strength of foam
when there are two or more long chain hydrophobes [54].
concrete [43, 44]. Besides these advantages, the natural
In general adsorption and surface active properties are
surfactant also has few limitations such as, inconstancy in
reported to be higher for cationic surfactants with lower
composition due to variability in raw material, limited

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Table 2 An overview of potential foaming agents for use in foam concrete production
Foaming agent Classification of Properties studied Major findings
foaming agent
Foam Foam

Sodium lauryl sulphate Anionic i–v, viii–xii, Addition of sodium admixtures namely NaCl, Na2CO3 and NaOH is reported
(SLS) surfactant vii xiv– to improve the foam properties such as initial foam density and stability and
xviii, xx subsequently enhanced the performance in cement based mixes [24]
Use of fly ash as cement replacement material improves the microstructure and
the mechanical properties of foamed concrete and hence can be extended for
use in structural applications [65]
Sodium lauryl ether Anionic i–v viii–xii, Requirements of ASTM C 869 for foamed cement paste are fulfilled when the
sulphate (SLES) surfactant xiv–xviii optimum foam production parameters are adopted [63]
Studies on durability related properties proved that the cell like structure of
foam concrete do not necessarily make foam concrete less resistant to
penetration of aggressive ions [126]
Alcohol ethoxy sulphate Anionic i, iv, viii–x, xii, Thermal conductivity of foamed concrete with AES is reported to range from
(AES) surfactant vi, xiii, xv 0.12 to 0.421 W/mK for dry density of concrete ranging from 440 to
vii 1500 kg/m3 [44]
Alpha olefin Sulfonate Anionic i, iv, viii–x, xii, Concrete mixes produced with AOS Foaming agent has higher workability
(AOS) surfactant vi, xiii, xv which can be attributed to the lower surface tension of foaming agent
vii solution [44]. Also it is recommended for use in partial load bearing
insulation elements because of its higher compressive strength
Sodium oleate Anionic ii viii, xiv Sodium oleate when used in cement based mixes tends to show slightly low
surfactant initial foam volume because of inhibiting effect of calcium ions released by
cement but however the stability of foam remains unaffected [62]
Sulphanol Anionic i–v viii–xi, xiii, Corr (2002) observed that the foaming ability of sulphanol is relatively less
surfactant xiv affected by the calcium ions in cement paste [62]
Cetyltrimethyl Cationic vi viii–xi, xiii, The morphology of pore structure changed from monodispersed to highly
ammonium bromide surfactant xiv connected structure when the density of foam concrete was varied from 551
(CTAB) to 254 kg/m3 [55]
Cetrimide Cationic vi viii–xi, xiii, Suitable for mix-foaming method, as a significant reduction of 50% in density
surfactant xiv of concrete was realized with small increase of 0.2% dosage of Cetrimide
Neopor Aqueous protein vi viii–xi, xiii, Samson observed from his comparative study that a decrease in dry density of
hydrolysate xiv concrete by 100 kg/m3 resulted in reduction in thermal conductivity of
0.033 W/mK and hence foamed concrete made with Neopor surfactant is
found to have relatively low thermal conductivity [55]
Microair PEG fatty acid vi viii–xi, xiii, The surface tension of foaming agent solution prepared with Microair is
xiv reported to as low as 25 mNN/m and hence it is expected to result in more
stable foam leading to improved mechanical performance of foamed
concrete [55]
Cocodiethanolamide Non-ionic i–v viii–xi In a comparative study of CDA with ionic surfactants, though the foam
(CDA) surfactant produced with CDA had good stability, but the output rate was low due to
its high viscous nature [63]
Vegetable soap Natural i, iv, viii–x, xii, The quantity of vegetable oil needed for foam production is less as its foam
surfactant vi, xiii, xv density is as low as 33 kg/m3 [44]
Fe-protein Natural i, iv, viii–x, xii, In a comparative study with synthetic surfactants, the compressive and flexural
surfactant vi, xiii, xv strength of foamed concrete produced with Fe-protein is reported to be
vii relatively higher and this can be attributed to the stable nature of foam
produced with thick lamellae and high density [44]
Soapnut (SN) Plant based i, ii, v viii–x, xiv, Surfactant solution prepared by water soaking of SN pericap and then further
xv, xx heating to 80 °C resulted in relatively better foam density when compared
to simple method of just water soaking of SN pericap without heating. Also
the foam produced with SN when used in foamed cement paste is reported
to result in considerable delay in the setting time [29]
Animal hoof and horn Animal protein ii, iv viii, x, xiii Foamed concrete prepared with animal hoof and horn protein surfactant is
based reported to possess well pouring stability [32]

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Table 2 continued
Foaming agent Classification of Properties studied Major findings
foaming agent
Foam Foam

Baijiu vinasse Plant protein ii, iv – The properties of foam such as foamability and foam stability as determined
based by Ross-Miles meter is found to be satisfactory proving the huge potential
for application of Baijiv vinnase as surfactant [35]
Surfactant and foam related properties—(i) foam density, (ii) foam stability, (iii) foam output rate, (iv) foam capacity, (v) foam texture, (vi)
surface tension of surfactant solution, (vii) viscosity of surfactant
Foam concrete properties—(viii) fresh density, (ix) dry density, (x) compressive strength, (xi) water absorption, (xii) flexural strength, (xiii)
thermal conductivity, (xiv) microstructure, (xv) workability, (xvi) sorptivity, (xvii) shrinkage, (xviii) sulphate resistance, (xix) chloride resis-
tance, (xx) setting behaviour

solubility. Many cationic surfactant possesses good foam- phosphate groups [59]. Ease and low cost associated with its
ability and stability but due to its high cost it counts rela- manufacturing process make the anionic surfactant so popular
tively less use in industry [14]. Cetyltrimethylammonium for various applications like detergency, personal care prod-
bromide or CTAB (Quaternary ammonium surfactant), a ucts, emulsifiers and soaps [60]. The cations most commonly
cationic surfactant have been used in foam concrete pro- used are sodium, potassium, ammonium, calcium and various
duction by few researchers [55, 56]. These salts are formed amines. The significant features of few important groups of
by the neutralisation of amine with an acid in aqueous anionic surfactant which are most commonly used in foam
solution. These salts of fatty amines with carbon chain concrete production are discussed below.
length 12–16 are most effective and proved successful with One of the main types of anionic surfactants commer-
many acids like acetic acid, glycolic acid and lactic acid cially available are the carboxylate soaps. Soaps in general
[15]. are the alkali metal salts of the carboxylic acids of fatty
Samson et al. [55] compared the performance of two acids. Few of the carboxylate soaps which are commonly
cationic surfactants namely CTAB and Cetrimide with used in foam concrete production are sodium lauryl sul-
respect to fresh and hardened state properties of foam phate [61], sodium oleate [62], alpha olefin sulphonate [44]
concrete. Cetrimide and CTAB were reported to be more and sulphanol [63]. As mentioned earlier, the solubility of a
suitable for mix-foaming method, as a significant reduction surfactant depends on the chain length of the hydrophobic
of 50% in density of concrete was realized with a small group. Hence, the anionic surfactant made from C12 fatty
increase in dosage of 0.2% above the base dosage of 0.05% acid like sodium laurate is soluble in water. But surfactants
of the above surfactants. The structure of pore system was like sodium oleate made from C18 fatty acid is very slow to
also found to vary with the density of concrete. The authors dissolve. Hence, it can be generalized that below C8, the
had reported that when the density of foam concrete made products are very soluble in water, between C8 and C18
with CTAB surfactant was varied from 551 to 254 kg/m3, sparingly soluble and above C20 insoluble in water. It is to
the porous structure changed its morphology from be noted that optimum surface active properties are
monodisperse structure to a highly connected structure. obtained with the sparingly soluble products [15]. Any
The greater amount of foam in mixes with lower density structural modification that leads to lowering the CMC of
could be attributed to highly connected structure formed as surfactant by increasing the chain length of anionic sur-
a result of merging of air voids [57]. For the same density, factant can be expected to increase its efficiency as
foam concrete with Cetrimide is reported to perform better foaming agent. This is because longer chain length may
in terms of compressive strength and thermal conductivity greatly expand the surface area which can attribute to more
when compared to CTAB. rapid reduction in surface tension and hence, results in
Similarly, another class of cationics are long chain enhancement of efficiency of foaming agent [48]. Among
amines, which are positively charged with pH less than 7. the soaps made from fatty acids, maximum foam produc-
However, at high pH ([ 7) the long chain amines become tion is reported from surfactants like sodium laurate and
no longer charged and lose their activity. On the other hand sodium myristate made from C12 to 14 fatty acids. Sodium
the quaternary ammonium salts remain charged and retain stearate gives rich creamy foam, but oleates, laurates and
their activity at all pH conditions [58]. tallates give more open foam [15].
Anionic Surfactant The next important class of anionic surfactants are the
Anionic surfactants are generally negatively charged head sulphates. The commercial products of sulphates used as
group which can be carboxylate, sulfate, sulfonates and surfactants in foam concrete production are fatty alcohol

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sulphates (e.g. sodium lauryl sulphate), ether sulphates and magnesium chloride are incorporated to non-ionic
(e.g. sodium lauryl ether sulphate), nonyl phenol ether surfactant, it results in further reduction of CMC and this
sulphates and fatty acid alkanoamide ether sulphate. Most reduction is more significant when used in mixed surfactant
surfactants of sulphate group show salt effect when inor- system with the anionics than with cationics. In addition to
ganic additives are added as discussed earlier. Among the that, temperature has also significant effect on surfactant
sulphates sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) is more commonly properties. With increase in temperature, CMC reduces and
used [50, 64] and found to produce desirable results in the molecule becomes more insoluble and thus becomes
terms of stable foam concrete mix when used in foam more surface active [15, 71]. Besides the above mentioned,
concrete production as reported by many researchers as the non-ionic surfactants do not have any significant
[24, 46, 65]. Ether sulphates is reported to perform better electrical charge on their surface active part, there is very
compared to alcohol sulphates and this is attributed to the little or no electrical interaction between the head groups
presence of the polyethylene oxide which confer improved resulting in foam with lesser stability when compared to
solubility on ether sulphates [15]. Surfactant mixture of 2% ionic surfactant [14].
sulfanol (sodium dodecyl benzene sulphonate) as foaming
agent and 0.3% bone glue hydro solution as stabilizer in the Composite Foaming Agent With the continuous search
ratio 1:0.15 is reported to produce stable foam for use in for improving surfactant properties, mixed surfactants or
foam concrete production [40]. composite foaming agents have recently emerged to be the
one that exhibits interesting synergistic interactions. Sev-
Zwitterionic Surfactant
eral combinations of cationic, anionic and non-ionic sur-
Zwitterionic surfactant commonly called as amphoteric or
factants were adopted by various researchers for their
ampholyte contains both the charges positive and negative
studies [49, 72, 73].
on the surface active part of the molecule. High stability
Composite foaming agent made with combinations of
foam with less irritation to skin are the significant advan-
different types of surfactant is reported to produce better
tages of Zwitterionic surfactant [66, 67]. Cocoamido-pro-
quality foam than the individual components [74]. It can be
pyl betaine is commonly used Zwitterionic surfactant [68].
further postulated that the tendency to form aggregated
As the surfactant carries both the charges, it is found to be
structures (mixed micelles) in solutions containing mixture
compatible with both cationic and anionic surfactants by
of surfactants would be substantially different from solu-
choosing the right conditions when used in mixed surfac-
tion involving only the pure surfactant [75].
tant system [69]. Zwitterionic surfactants are mostly
Ospanova et al. [51] have reported based on their studies
compatible with all class of surfactant except at low pH
that composite foaming agent made of combination of
with anionics, where they give a precipitate. Hence, best
sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and polyvinyl alcohol (PVA)
foaming properties is obtained at alkaline pH. Zwitterionic
and another composite combination of cetyltrimethylammo-
surfactant shows excellent foam stability when added to
nium bromide (CTAB) and polyvinyl alcohol performed
ether sulphate solutions, particularly sulphobetaines.
better in terms of stability and foaming property than their
Though these surfactants have absolute potential [15] but
individual components (SLS or CTAB). This is because, the
not many researches have been reported on its use in foam
presence of PVA resulted in increased minimum equilibrium
concrete production.
film thickness of film around bubble and hence resulted in
enhanced foam stability. In addition to above, in presence of
Non-ionic Surfactant These surfactants are second most PVA, the CMC of surfactant is found to decrease which
widely used in the industries like textile, food, paper, economizes the requirement of surfactant for stable foam
plastic etc. Most commonly used non-ionic surfactants are production. Also while choosing the combinations of com-
Triton X-100 [70], Tween 80 [49] and Cocodiethanolamide posite foaming gents, the following guidelines can be con-
[63]. The size of micelle for nonionics is very much larger sidered. Anionic surfactants are generally not compatible with
than that of anionics or cationics. The shape and size of a cationics and vice versa. On the other hand most of the non-
micelle are a function of the molecular geometry of its ionic and true amphoteric are compatible with each other and
surfactant molecules which generally depends on structure with anionic or cationic [50].
of surfactant and also environmental conditions such as
surfactant concentration, temperature, pH etc. [14]. Basi-
cally non-ionic surfactant are reported to possess lesser Foam
CMC value than ionic surfactants because the electrostatic
repulsion of the head groups in the periphery of ionic A mass of gas cells separated by thin films of liquid and
micelles makes micellization more difficult [19]. Also, formed by the juxtaposition of bubbles, giving a gas dis-
when inorganic salts like sodium chloride, sodium bromide persed in a liquid is called foam. The properties of foam are

398 J. Inst. Eng. India Ser. A (June 2018) 99(2):391–405

greatly influenced by the characteristics of foam, surfactant [5] wet foam can also be produced by spraying a solution
and method of production of foam as discussed in the of foaming agent over a fine mesh. The foam produced by
following sections. above mentioned method has large loose bubble structure
with 2–5 mm bubble size and is relatively less stable [6].
Methods of Production Hence, such foam is not suitable to produce foam concrete
with uniform microstructure. As the gas fraction in foam
It is a well-known fact that pure liquids cannot foam and becomes high enough, bubbles are forced into contact and
the presence of surfactant is essential for making and sta- form polyhedral structures leading to dry foam [84]. Foam
bilising a foam [23, 76]. Most of the foam production with ø less than 0.05 is considered as extremely dry foam
systems include surfactant solutions, expansion gas (air) [83]. Foam produced using compressed air method can be
and an equipment to combine, mix and deliver the foam classified as dry foam in which the foam is produced by
product [77]. One traditional and most familiar way of forcing diluted solution with compressed air through a
preparing foam is by using a dispersion technique, which series of high density restrictions in a chamber. Generally,
consists of mechanical shaking of surfactant solution or dry foam is relatively stable and is recommended for foam
whipping a surfactant solution mechanically with a high concrete production.
speed stirrer or fan [78]. Researchers [79, 80] have proved
that the mean bubble size of foam produced decreased with Based on Degree of Stability
increase in rotational speed of stirrer. Hence, the speed of
mixing is an important parameter for achieving good It is extremely important to have a foam, which can persist
quality foam with this approach. However, this method is for a considerable time till the concrete sets and attains a
not particularly satisfactory since the accurate control of uniform cellular structure which is an important require-
the amount of air which is incorporated in the liquid is ment for cellular concrete. So, based on stability point of
difficult to achieve. view, foam can be generalized into unstable,
The other alternate method is aerosol method where the metastable and solid foams. Unstable foams are low per-
liquid is supersaturated with gas by dissolving the gas into sistence foams or transient foam and as their name implies
the surfactant solution under pressure and then releasing they remain for a very short time and collapse as a result of
the pressure as done in pop drinks [81]. The high cost the overwhelming effects of surface tension and gravita-
associated with this method limits its wider application for tional forces. The lifetime of these foams ranges from
foam generation [77]. The most widely used method of several seconds to about 20 s [72]. Metastable foam pos-
foam production for use in concrete is compressed air sess a persistence from few minutes to months [48]. They
method wherein the foam is generated by mixing com- can withstand ordinary disturbances (Brownian fluctua-
pressed air and surfactant solution in high density restric- tions) but collapse due to abnormal disturbance like
tions. Studies have proved that the foam produced by evaporation or temperature gradient [85]. They are stabi-
compressed air method is relatively more stable as the lized by the presence of surface active materials at the
bubble size distribution in foam is narrower [82]. liquid/gas interface which can retard the loss of drainage of
liquid from the area between bubbles.
Classification of Foam Solid foams could be considered as thermodynamically
stable since they possess a mechanically rigid structure
One of the most common schemes of classification is based formed as a result of irreversible chemical process during
on its degree of stability. They may also be classified on the or just after foam formation. Most solid foams are made
basis of its liquid fraction as discussed below. using blowing agent (which supply the gas) by boiling,
upon increase of temperature or release of pressure, or by
Based on the Liquid Fraction chemical decomposition. Flurocarbons (currently prohib-
ited in many uses), CO2 and N2 are commonly used as final
Many of the physical properties of a foam depend on its products of such blowing agent.
liquid fraction i.e. the volume ratio of liquid and gas (/).
Based on the liquid fraction, the foams are classified into Properties of Foam
wet and dry foam as discussed below.Wet foam usually
refers to foam with liquid fraction higher than 0.15 [83]. In this paper the important properties of foam viz. foam
Lykelama calls system with / greater than 0.37 as extre- texture, density and stability are reviewed to provide the
mely wet foam [84]. Foam produced based on dispersion readers with information on its impact on foam concrete
technique and aerosol method can be classified as wet foam properties.
as the liquid fraction is higher. As suggested by Aldridge

J. Inst. Eng. India Ser. A (June 2018) 99(2):391–405 399

Foam Texture foaming agent [12]. So, in order to use the low density
foams for foam concrete production, it would be advisable
Foam texture refers to shape and size of bubbles in foam to add some foam thickening agent as additives to improve
[86]. The shape of bubbles in foam in general can be the density of foam. Various researchers have incorporated
broadly classified into spherical and polyhedral [87]. A different additives like carboxylic methyl cellulose [95],
variety of techniques have been used in earlier studies to sodium hydroxide, sodium carbonate and sodium chloride
study the bubble size distribution: the conductivity probe, [24] to enhance the viscosity of foaming solution which
the optical fibre based method, light transmission proce- resulted in improvement of foam density and subsequent
dures and photographic methods to mention a few. Among improvement in foam concrete characteristics.
the above mentioned methods, photographic methods are
reported to be non-intrusive as it does not change or distort Foam Stability
the bubble size distribution [82]. The bubble size in pre-
formed foam added to concrete is reported to range from The ability of foam to withstand spontaneous collapse or
0.1 to 1 mm [88]. As highlighted in numerous studies there breakdown from external causes is called foam stability.
is a strong relationship between bubble size distribution The foam stability reflects the life of lamellae in the gen-
and rate of drainage [82]. The foam with smaller size erated foam [46]. It is the function of various parameters
bubbles are reported to be more stable due to reduction in like thickness of lamellae [97], viscosity of liquid [98],
rate of drainage [89]. In addition, more uniform bubble size elasticity of film [99] and bubble size [100]. Furthermore,
distribution also enhances foam stability [90–92]. It is clear foam stability is an essential parameter for foam concrete
from the above observation that the foam with fine texture production to ensure a uniform cellular structure of con-
(small spherical bubbles) is needed to produce foam con- crete as the bubble should remain stable till the concrete
crete with uniform and closed cellular microstructure [37]. sets. There are various mechanisms affecting the stability
of foam like gravitational drainage from the films, coars-
Foam Density ening caused by inter-bubble gas transport, coalescence of
adjacent bubbles due to rupture of inter-bubble lamellae
Foam density refers to unit weight of foam. This parameter etc. [99, 101]. Coarsening which is the inter-bubble diffu-
is useful to calculate the volume of foam which is the sion causing the expansion of larger bubbles at the expense
governing parameter for achieving a desired density of of the smaller bubbles is a difficult phenomenon to measure
foam concrete [46]. For foam concrete, ASTM C 796-97 [102]. Hence, the drainage rate is often used to characterize
has recommended a foam unit weight range of 32–64 kg/ the stability of foam which can be measured either as free
m3 with a remark that this range could be adjusted drainage or forced drainage [103]. Generally, freshly made
according to manufacturers recommendation based on foam starts draining due to gravity and this naturally
foam chemical and generator used [93]. Also it is important occurring process is called free drainage. The main prob-
to note that the foam density is dependent on various fac- lem states when to start the experiment, since foam starts
tors like type of surfactant [94], surfactant concentration draining as soon as it is formed [83].
[46], additives [95], viscosity of foaming solution [24, 96], On the other hand, forced drainage is also difficult to
thickness of lamellae [78] and foam generation pressure manage, as the high pressure may lead to breakdown of
[63]. The influence of foam production parameters namely bubbles. Foam stability have also been assessed through
surfactant concentration and foam generation pressure on studies on the variation of height of foam [72, 104, 105] or
foam density shall be discussed in later section. volume of foam [106, 107] or density of foam with time
Generally, the bubbles in the foam are surrounded by the [63]. ASTM C 796 [93] and ASTM C 869 [108] has pre-
layer of liquid called as lamellae. The thickness of the scribed standard guideline to evaluate the performance of
lamellae and the properties of liquid in the lamellae foaming agent for use in preformed foam concrete which
influences the properties of foam to a greater extent. has been taken as a measure of stability of foam in concrete
Researchers have reported that, a critical thickness of by various researchers [24, 63]. Foam concrete has to meet
5–15 nm is required to support the pressure in the bubbles the requirements of ASTM with respect to fresh density,
[52]. Most commonly, the foam with high density has oven dry density, compressive strength, split tensile
thicker lamellar layer than foam with low density. Hence, strength and water absorption for its suitability in foamed
when the thickness of lamellar film around the bubble is concrete production. Various studies have concluded that
greater than the critical thickness required, the foam sta- stability of foam could be enhanced through addition of
bility is reported to be good. Few researchers have con- additives like bone glue [40] and viscosity enhancing agent
cluded that synthetic foam tend to have greater expansion [24]. Use of the fine fillers like fly ash and pulverized sand
and hence lower density when compared to protein based in concrete is also reported to enhance the foam stability as

400 J. Inst. Eng. India Ser. A (June 2018) 99(2):391–405

the fine material forms a uniform coating around the quality of foam concrete will be discussed in the following
lamellae and prevent the coarsening effect [109–111]. sections.

Foam Expansion Ratio Foam Production Parameters

Foam expansion ratio (FER) is a measure of foam capacity Foam Generation Pressure
or foamability of foaming solution [112]. The ratio of
volume of foam formed to the volume of foaming solution The pressure at which foam is generated from foam gen-
used to generate the foam is called foam expansion ratio erator is referred as foam generation pressure (FGP). This
[90]. Commonly speaking, expansion ratio or foam multi- is one of the production parameters which controls the
plicity or foam capacity are user friendly term for foam mixing of air with foaming liquid and hence governs the
users since it gives a volume for measurement of foam that quality of foam in preformed method of foam concrete
could be produced from unit quantity of foaming solution production using foam generator. For a given surfactant
[51, 105]. Few researchers [113–115] have used technique concentration, the foam density is observed to be in direct
like foam scan apparatus to measure the foamability relation with FGP. The foam generation pressure also
wherein the ratio of volume of foam to volume of gas determines the size of bubble in foam. Smaller the size of
introduced for formation of foam is measured as foama- bubble in foam, more will be the stability of foam and
bility. FER depends on properties of surfactant and foam uniform will be the microstructure of concrete. At low
production parameters namely surfactant concentration and pressure (\ 30 kPa) the physical properties of solutions,
foam generation pressure. The foam to be used in preform density, viscosity and dynamic surface tension determine
foam concrete production should have FER in the range of size of bubble being formed. However, as the pressure and
(1:15.6–1:31.25) as derived from foam density range pre- hence the flow rate of air increases, the solution effects are
scribed by ASTM C 796-97 [93]. Foam with very high neglected and the bubble diameter is determined by the
foam expansion ratio say greater than (1:50) has very thin generation pressure [57, 100, 118, 119]. Adoption of very
lamellar layer resulting in foam with less stability as dis- lower FGP resulted in poor quality of foam due to inability
cussed in earlier sections. Such kind of over expanded of compressed air to penetrate into the foam solution. This
foams of lower foam density are likely to collapse and in turn resulted in poor cellular structure when such foam is
increase the concrete density [116]. On the other hand, used in foam concrete. On the other hand, at very higher
foam with less expansion ratio (less than 1:15) has less FGP, the foaming solution also comes out along with foam
amount of air resulting in poor quality foam. due to turbulence in the container resulting in foam with
higher density and poor stability which was confirmed by
higher drop in density with time [24, 63]. Subsequently this
Foam Concrete Production Parameters resulted in poor quality of foam with lesser amount of air
leading to failure in the achievement of design density of
On the basis of the production methodology, foam concrete foam concrete. Similar observations were reported by
is classified into pre-form or mix-foam foam concrete researchers [24] stating that it is difficult to generate good
[117]. In pre-form method of foam concrete production, the quality foam with generation pressure below 78 kPa and
foam generated using any one of the methods as discussed above 137 kPa. Therefore, selection of optimum FGP is
earlier in Sect. Methods of Production is added to the base very important as it affects the foam density, bubble size
mix (mortar without foam) and mixed thoroughly till a and ultimately the stability of foam and foam concrete
homogeneous mix is obtained. Similarly mix-foam foam mixes. Also, it is to be noted that the optimum FGP has to
concrete is produced by mixing all the ingredients includ- be derived based on designed experimental trials only.
ing the surfactant, cement and water in the mixer machine
at a high speed. During the process of mixing, the foam is Surfactant Concentration
generated which on setting leaves a cellular structure [2].
Hence, the mix foam method does not require a separate Surfactant concentration (SC) represents the concentration
foam production equipment like foam generator and its of surfactant in the foaming premix solution prepared. It
efficiency is governed by type of surfactant, its dosage, can also be expressed in terms of dilution ratio, say 1:x
mixing speed, duration of mixing and type of mixer which means one part of foaming agent is diluted with x
machine. On the other hand, the efficiency of preformed parts of water. Studies have been conducted by few
method depends on foam generation pressure also in researchers on the effect of variation of SC on the foam
addition to the parameters mentioned above. The influence properties and it has been proved that adoption of very low
of the various foam concrete production parameters on the SC resulted in foam with very high foam density but the

J. Inst. Eng. India Ser. A (June 2018) 99(2):391–405 401

stability of foam thus produced was found to be very poor angles and facilitates both clock wise and anti-clock wise
which was confirmed by higher rate of drainage [63]. In rotation [123]. In addition to pan mixer, paddle type mixer
this line, Siva et al. [24] stated that when the adopted can also be recommended for preform method of produc-
surfactant (Sodium lauryl sulphate) concentration was tion [93].
below 0.5% foam could not be produced as it is mostly From the limited literature available on mix-foam
water with lower concentration of surfactant. But dosages method of production it is found that a standard high speed
beyond 2.5% resulted in no significant variation in density paddle type mixer and pan mixer could be suitable options
of foam. In general the usage of higher SC resulted in more for mix-foam concrete production [124]. It has been
viscous and stable foam. However, the usage of higher SC reported that a horizontal propeller type mixer having blade
is not economical for foam concrete production. Hence, the thickness of 0.75 in. and rotating speed of 55–60 rpm is
selection of optimal SC to produce stable foam is deemed generally preferred for cellular concrete preparation [125].
necessary for economical foam concrete production. To It is to be noted that speed and duration of mixing are very
simplify these optimization studies on SC, CMC of sur- important parameters as they affect the stability of foam
factant can be used as a guiding parameter to derive the [37]. Mixing of concrete for a very short duration of less
optimum surfactant concentration. In addition to SC and than 2 min results in non-homogeneous mix [122] while
FGP, mixing speed and the type of mixer machine also prolonged mixing greater than 6 min at high speed lead to
greatly influenced foam concrete production which will be disintegration of foam [124]. Hence, the dosage of foaming
discussed in the next section. agent requirement to obtain a given density of concrete also
depends on type of mixer used, length of mixing period and
Mixing Speed, Mixer Machine, Batching Sequence speed of mixing [28].

Most common types of mixers such as tilt drum or pan

mixer which is commonly used for concrete or mortar can Conclusion
be used for foam concrete [120]. The type of mixer,
batching and mixing sequences of foam concrete depends Based on review conducted it is observed that the selection
upon whether it is preform method or mixfoam method of of surfactant, method of production of foam and foam
production. For production of preform foam concrete the production parameters play a vital role in the properties of
following batching sequence was reported in earlier stud- foam which in turn affects the microstructure of foam
ies. The mixing sequence constitutes first combining of concrete. Generally dry foam with lesser liquid fraction
cement and filler with water (including superplasticizer) for produced based on compressed air method is relatively
1 min with a trowel to minimise the material loss that can stable and is recommended for foam concrete production.
occur from mixing in an open mixer. Then using the mixer, Foam stability is a function of various parameters such as
the materials were mixed for 4 min until a homogeneous thickness of lamellae, viscosity of liquid and bubble size.
base mix was achieved. To the base mix thus prepared, the The foam production parameters such as Surfactant Con-
necessary volume of preform foam is introduced and centration (SC) and Foam Generation Pressure (FGP) have
thereafter mixed for at least 2 or 3 min in order to get to be maintained at optimum levels for stable foam pro-
uniform distribution of foam [43, 121]. On the other hand, duction. At very low SC and higher FGP, though the foam
in mixfoam method, the foaming agent is mixed along with possesses high initial density, its stability was poor which
base mix ingredients and after a short period of slow was confirmed by higher rate of drainage.
mixing, the mixer was operated at 80–90 rpm for a period Among the characteristics of surfactant there is con-
of 2–3 min [122]. siderable interest in CMC as it represents the lowest con-
Very few studies have been conducted by researchers on centration at which surface active properties are at
the choice of type of mixer machine for use in preform optimum. CMC depends on the chemical structure of
foam concrete. Karl and Worner [120] emphasized that the molecule and decreases with increase in chain length of
mixer should be capable of generating enough vertical hydrophobic group. However, issues regarding solubility of
motion of constituents in order to avoid the separation of greater chain length molecules need to be considered.
light foam at top and heavier ingredients at bottom. When Foam generated with highly viscous surfactant solution is
the conventional mortar mixer with blade rotating along reported to have high initial foam density and stability over
central axis is used, the foam was observed to float above time which in turn resulted in desirable fresh and hardened
the mix due to improper mixing. Considering the above state properties of foam concrete. From the studies on
limitations, the pan mixer with rotating arm type is proved various classification of surfactant, it is found that protein
to be the best suitable mixing option in terms of quality due based surfactant resulted in foam with uniform bubble
to its arm arrangement which can be located at various structure subsequently leading to enhancement of

402 J. Inst. Eng. India Ser. A (June 2018) 99(2):391–405

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