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To co nserve curing energy, cover prestressed concrete products with tarps or insulated curing blankets as soon as possible.

Accelerated concrete curing: The basics


Consider all the costs when choosing and using a curing method
By W. Calvin McCall
nternal concrete temperature is the most important factor affecting early compressive strength of concrete. Because of this, external heat is usually applied to produce the 3000- to 6000-psi compressive strengths typically required for detensioning prestressed concrete products after 12 to 18 hours of curing. Temperature is critical to meeting the dual concerns of higher early strength or reduced curing time. Once the proper concrete materials and mix proportions have been selected, prestressed concrete producers can use several different techniques to apply heat. However, its worthwhile to review the basics of accelerated curing because this production phase affects the cost of curing.

Accelerated curing methods High early concrete strengths are most efficiently produced by increasing the internal temperature of the concrete while maintaining a high moisture content in the curing environment. Heating reduces the

relative humidity of the air surrounding the concrete. Thus, moisture must be added to the heated air to maintain the same relative humidity of the air. If adequate moisture isnt maintained in the curing environment, the concrete wont develop maximum compressive strength, and cracking may occur. Durability of the concrete may also be reduced due to inadequate hydration of the cementitious material. Three heating methods are commonly used to accelerate curing: Discharging steam or hot air directly into the curing environment puts the heating medium directly in contact with the concrete. Enclosing steam or hot water in pipes heats the concrete by convection and radiation. Attaching electrical resistance wires to the forms and covering them with insulation heats the product by heating the forms. Steam and heated-air curing. Circulating steam around the products is one of the most widely used accelerated curing meth-

ods, primarily due to the ease of producing and transporting steam to the prestressed member. Its an efficient method that increases the temperature and maintains a 100% relative humidity around the concrete products. Steam can be produced in high- or lowpressure boilers, then piped to the casting bed, or generated by smaller steam packs located close to the products. An advantage of steam is that it contains relatively large quantities of heat per pound of steam at a relatively low temperature. This provides both an effective and economical method of transferring heat from the boilers to the concrete products. Internal temperature can also be increased by heating air and discharging it directly into the curing environment. There are two problems with this type of system. First, exhaust gases of unvented fossil-fuel heaters contain carbon dioxide that combines with calcium hydroxide, a byproduct of cement hydration, forming weak calcium carbonates instead of strong calcium sili-

Curing economy
To evaluate the true cost of accelerating curing, the cost of the concrete and the cost of operating the curing system should be considered. In most cases the early strength requirements determine the cost of the concrete mixture. Since cement hydration usually generates enough heat to keep product temperature high, most of the applied external heat is used to heat forms and air in the curing environment and to replace heat that is lost. To conserve energy, insulated curing blankets or tarps should be used and the concrete products covered as soon as possible. Repair all holes and tears in the blankets and tarps. Direct-fired boilers are typically more efficient than standard boilers. Direct-fired boilers have efficiencies of 90% or more compared with standard boilers with efficiencies of 75% to 80% or less. Direct-fired boilers are placed closer to the concrete products, reducing heat loss through the piping. Usually, direct-fired boilers require less maintenance. All pipes delivering steam or hot water from the boiler to the products should be insulated. Leaks in piping and valves should be repaired immediately. These are areas where energy is lost and the cost of curing increases. Lost production is the major cost of an inefficient curing system. If heat is lost through leaky, uninsulated piping or through torn, improperly insulated covers, the products may not reach the desired tempera ture fast enough. Resulting delays in detensioning and form stripping are costly because they affect the construction schedule, which could result in penalties or lost bonuses. Curing equipment must be properly maintained to produce the designed curing cycle and conserve energy.

cate hydrates. This produces a white powder on the concretes surface. Second, reduced moisture in the air allows surface drying of the concrete. If heated air is used to accelerate curing, the products should be covered to prevent moisture loss or misted with water to increase the relative humidity of the surrounding air and prevent premature drying. Curing by jacketed heating. These are usually referred to as radiant heating systems. Hot water or steam in pipes transfers heat to the concrete by radiation or convection. In these systems the heating medium circulates back through the boiler, making this a more fuel-efficient curing system than steam curing. Products must be covered because of the dry curing environment, but this environment also uses insulated forms that make the system more efficient. Conductive systems typically dont heat products as quickly as those using live steam, mainly due to inefficiencies of heat transfer. Curing by electrical heating. Electrical resistance heat has been used in several applications. Electric curing accurately controls temperature and is a reliable system requiring minimal labor. Well-insulated forms are used to conserve energy, but the system may not be cost effective in areas with high electric rates. Accelerated curing cycle The accelerated curing cycle can be divided into three periodspreset, rising temperature, and maximum temperature (Figure 1). Preset. Little or no cement hydration occurs during preset. Initial set ends the preset period. Heat shouldnt normally be applied until after initial set has occurred. Duration of the preset period is affected by admixture type and dosage, cement type, presence of pozzolans or ground granulated blast furnace slag (GGBFS), initial concrete temperature, and air temperature in the curing environment. Since the preset time of the concrete varies with different concrete mixtures and temperatures, testing is the best method for determining the actual duration of the preset time. Use ASTM C 403, Standard Test Method for Time of Setting of Concrete Mixtures by Penetration Resistance to determine when initial set has occurred. Since many variables affect initial set, perform this test whenever there are changes in concrete ingredients, mix proportions, or concrete temperature. Perform it

in the casting yard, not the laboratory, since ambient conditions affect setting time. You can also detect initial set by monitoring the internal temperature of the concrete. An increase in temperature indicates that initial set has occurred and hydration has begun. Its important not to add substantial quantities of heat to the concrete until initial set, especially with air-entrained concrete. Research shows that strength losses can occur if concrete is heated excessively prior to attaining initial set. This is mainly due to differential thermal expansions of the air, water, cement and aggregates, and to the low tensile strength of the concrete. During the preset period, entrained or entrapped air will expand at significantly different rates than the other materials and possibly cause internal cracking due to the concrete not being strong enough to resist these pressures. This will not only affect early strengths, but it will greatly affect ultimate strength and durability. Research shows that concrete should not be heated above 120 F until after the preset period. As the initial temperature of the concrete increases, the preset period shortens. If the concrete temperature is increased from 70 F to 90 F, it isnt uncommon for the initial time of set to be reduced by 2 or more hours. If the temperature is reduced to 50 F, the initial setting time may double. After the concrete ingredients and proportions have been established, ambient temperature will have the greatest influence on preset time. Rising temperature. After initial set, large amounts of heat are required to raise the concrete to maximum temperature. A significant portion of the required heat may be generated internally by cement hydration. Insulated blankets or heavy tarps should be used to control heat loss. Rate of rise may range from 20 F to 80 F per hour. The 28-day strengths arent significantly affected by variations in rates within this range, provided initial set has occurred before heat is applied. Maximum temperature. T e m-

Typical time temperature curve

Figure 1. In the accelerated curing cycle, initial set marks the end of the preset period. After initial set, large amounts of heat are added to attain maximum temperature and maintain it for the time needed to reach specified strength.

perature is maintained at the maximum value for the time needed to attain specified strength. During this period, additional heat is needed to replace heat lost due to thermal conduction through the cover and cool air entering the curing environment. Maximum temperatures generally range from 130 F to 160 F. The higher the product temperature, the greater the heat loss; thus, more heat has to be added to the curing environment when high maximum temperatures are used. Two strategies can be used after maximum temperature is reached. One, maintain the temperature by adding heat until the curing cycle is completed. Two, as an energy-efficient strategy, maintain the maximum temperature for a shorter time, shut off the heat, and allow the product to soak as the temperature slowly drops. If insulated covers are properly installed, the product doesnt lose temperature quickly and will reach early strengths similar to those of products heated continuously throughout the maximum temperature period. After the soaking period, the product is allowed to cool slowly enough to prevent differential thermal cracking. The proper cooling rate depends on product size and shape. Several systems automate or semiautomate the curing cycle. These energy-saving systems can be set to add heat at the scheduled time, control the rate of temperature rise, and maintain the maximum temper-

ature for a preset duration. They normally use thermal probes that monitor temperature within the product and add heat as needed to maintain the desired curing cycle. Many of these systems also cure the concrete test cylinders at the same temperature as the concrete products to ensure representative test results (See Concrete Journal, November 1995, page 900). 2
W. Calvin McCall is manager of technical services for Blue Circle Cement in Charlotte, N.C. He is past chairman of ACI Committee 517, Accelerated Curing of Concrete at Atmospheric Pressure.

References 1. Accelerated Curing of Concrete at Atmospheric Pressure State of the Art, ACI 517.2R-87 (Revised 1992), American Concrete Institute, 1980. 2. Time of Setting of Concrete Mixtures by Penetration Resistance, ASTM C 403, ASTM, 1995 3. McCall W. Calvin, Energy Consumption for Curing Precast Prestressed Concrete, Concrete International, November 1982. 4. Pfeifer, Donald W. and Marusin, Stella, Energy Efficient Accelerated Curin g o f Con cr ete, P r estressed Concrete Institute, 1981.

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