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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, it’s 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 isn’t maintained in the curing environment, the concrete won’t 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-
Curing by electrical heating. but the system may not be cost effective in areas with high electric rates. and maximum temperature (Figure 1). Usually. but this environment also uses insulated forms that make the system more efficient. or concrete temperature. Conductive systems typically don’t heat products as quickly as those using live steam. 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. exhaust gases of unvented fossil-fuel heaters contain carbon dioxide that combines with calcium hydroxide. uninsulated piping or through torn. Steam can be produced in high. Accelerated curing cycle The accelerated curing cycle can be divided into three periods—preset. Direct-fired boilers are typically more efficient than standard boilers. Resulting delays in detensioning and form stripping are costly because they affect the construction schedule. reduced moisture in the air allows surface drying of the concrete. Curing by jacketed heating.or lowpressure boilers. Electrical resistance heat has been used in several applications. a byproduct of cement hydration. improperly insulated covers. presence of pozzolans or ground granulated blast furnace slag (GGBFS). Use ASTM C 403. All pipes delivering steam or hot water from the boiler to the products should be insulated. Hot water or steam in pipes transfers heat to the concrete by radiation or convection. cement type. Lost production is the major cost of an inefficient curing system. Since cement hydration usually generates enough heat to keep product temperature high. If heat is lost through leaky. Repair all holes and tears in the blankets and tarps. It’s an efficient method that increases the temperature and maintains a 100% relative humidity around the concrete products. Since the preset time of the concrete varies with different concrete mixtures and temperatures. primarily due to the ease of producing and transporting steam to the prestressed member.ods. direct-fired boilers require less maintenance. Products must be covered because of the dry curing environment. Direct-fired boilers have efficiencies of 90% or more compared with standard boilers with efficiencies of 75% to 80% or less. the cost of the concrete and the cost of operating the curing system should be considered. Electric curing accurately controls temperature and is a reliable system requiring minimal labor. First. There are two problems with this type of system. Duration of the preset period is affected by admixture type and dosage. which could result in penalties or lost bonuses. cate hydrates. Curing equipment must be properly maintained to produce the designed curing cycle and conserve energy. Internal temperature can also be increased by heating air and discharging it directly into the curing environment. To conserve energy. rising temperature. Heat shouldn’t normally be applied until after initial set has occurred. initial concrete temperature. Little or no cement hydration occurs during preset. forming weak calcium carbonates instead of strong calcium sili- Curing economy To evaluate the true cost of accelerating curing. If heated air is used to accelerate curing. Leaks in piping and valves should be repaired immediately. These are areas where energy is lost and the cost of curing increases. Initial set ends the preset period. and air temperature in the curing environment. or generated by smaller steam packs located close to the products. the products may not reach the desired tempera ture fast enough. An advantage of steam is that it contains relatively large quantities of heat per pound of steam at a relatively low temperature. These are usually referred to as radiant heating systems. mainly due to inefficiencies of heat transfer. This provides both an effective and economical method of transferring heat from the boilers to the concrete products. insulated curing blankets or tarps should be used and the concrete products covered as soon as possible. Preset. In these systems the heating medium circulates back through the boiler. Perform it $ $ . reducing heat loss through the piping. mix proportions. In most cases the early strength requirements determine the cost of the concrete mixture. Since many variables affect initial set. Standard Test Method for Time of Setting of Concrete Mixtures by Penetration Resistance to determine when initial set has occurred. testing is the best method for determining the actual duration of the preset time. most of the applied external heat is used to heat forms and air in the curing environment and to replace heat that is lost. Second. Well-insulated forms are used to conserve energy. This produces a white powder on the concrete’s surface. making this a more fuel-efficient curing system than steam curing. then piped to the casting bed. Direct-fired boilers are placed closer to the concrete products. perform this test whenever there are changes in concrete ingredients.
This will not only affect early strengths. page 900). These energy-saving systems can be set to add heat at the scheduled time. Two strategies can be used after maximum temperature is reached. Several systems automate or semiautomate the curing cycle. N. Insulated blankets or heavy tarps should be used to control heat loss. “Energy Consumption for Curing Precast Prestressed Concrete. ACI 517. 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. American Concrete Institute. provided initial set has occurred before heat is applied. 2 W. maintain the maximum temperature for a shorter time. It’s important not to add substantial quantities of heat to the concrete until initial set. not the laboratory. ASTM. cement and aggregates. A significant portion of the required heat may be generated internally by cement hydration. After the soaking period. Research shows that strength losses can occur if concrete is heated excessively prior to attaining initial set.2R-87 (Revised 1992). 1980. perature is maintained at the maximum value for the time needed to attain specified strength. water. P r estressed Concrete Institute. Research shows that concrete should not be heated above 120° F until after the preset period. During the preset period. They normally use thermal probes that monitor temperature within the product and add heat as needed to maintain the desired curing cycle. control the rate of temperature rise. 1981. After initial set. The Aberdeen group All rights reserved . If insulated covers are properly installed. Stella. thus. Calvin McCall is manager of technical services for Blue Circle Cement in Charlotte. especially with air-entrained concrete. ambient temperature will have the greatest influence on preset time. more heat has to be added to the curing environment when high maximum temperatures are used. large amounts of heat are added to attain maximum temperature and maintain it for the time needed to reach specified strength. 4. since ambient conditions affect setting time. One. and maintain the maximum temper- ature for a preset duration.in the casting yard. McCall W. it isn’t uncommon for the initial time of set to be reduced by 2 or more hours. Rate of rise may range from 20° F to 80° F per hour. As the initial temperature of the concrete increases. Pfeifer. Donald W. Rising temperature. Maximum temperatures generally range from 130° F to 160° F. additional heat is needed to replace heat lost due to thermal conduction through the cover and cool air entering the curing environment. After the concrete ingredients and proportions have been established. as an energy-efficient strategy. If the temperature is reduced to 50° F. 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. the greater the heat loss. The 28-day strengths aren’t significantly affected by variations in rates within this range. November 1995. T e m- Typical time temperature curve Figure 1. 1995 3. Energy Efficient Accelerated Curin g o f Con cr ete. An increase in temperature indicates that initial set has occurred and hydration has begun. You can also detect initial set by monitoring the internal temperature of the concrete. The higher the product temperature. and allow the product to “soak” as the temperature slowly drops. and to the low tensile strength of the concrete. the product doesn’t lose temperature quickly and will reach early strengths similar to those of products heated continuously throughout the maximum temperature period. After initial set. Two. Time of Setting of Concrete Mixtures by Penetration Resistance.” Concrete International. but it will greatly affect ultimate strength and durability. and Marusin. ASTM C 403. Accelerated Curing of Concrete at Atmospheric Pressure. large amounts of heat are required to raise the concrete to maximum temperature. References 1. In the accelerated curing cycle. During this period. He is past chairman of ACI Committee 517. initial set marks the end of the preset period.C. Calvin. the product is allowed to cool slowly enough to prevent differential thermal cracking. maintain the temperature by adding heat until the curing cycle is completed. If the concrete temperature is increased from 70° F to 90° F. This is mainly due to differential thermal expansions of the air. 2. the initial setting time may double. November 1982. the preset period shortens. Maximum temperature. shut off the heat. Accelerated Curing of Concrete at Atmospheric Pressure — State of the Art. The proper cooling rate depends on product size and shape. PUBLICATION #J960680 Copyright © 1996.
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