Effectiveness of Polycarboxylate Superplasticizers in Ultra-High Strength Concrete: The Importance of PCE Compatibility with Silica Fume

Johann Plank, Christof Schroefl, Mirko Gruber, Matthias Lesti and Roland Sieber

Journal of Advanced Concrete Technology, 7(1) 5-12, 2009

Methacrylate ester as well as allylether based polycarboxylates (PCEs) were synthesized to plasticize pastes of cement and silica fume having a water/cement ratio of 0.22. Methacrylate ester copolymers were found to disperse cement well, whereas allylether copolymers are more effective with silica fume. Mechanistic investigations revealed that in cement pore solution, the surface charge of silica fume becomes positive by adsorption of Ca2+ onto negatively charged silanolate groups present on the silica surface. This way, polycarboxylate copolymers adsorb to and disperse silica fume grains. Thus, mixtures of both copolymers were tested in cement-silica fume pastes. These blends provide significantly better dispersion than using only one polymer. Apparently, the surfaces of hydrating cement (here mainly ettringite) and silica fume are quite different with respect to their chemical composition. Therefore, PCEs with different molecular architectures are required to provide maximum coordination with calcium atoms present on these surfaces.

First superplasticizers have been applied without a solid understanding of the mechanisms. Gradually some basic facts of the functioning have become known. In this paper the development of new supersplasticizers is done on a scientific basis and in a systematic way. In this way it is also possible to explain the effect on cement containing silica fumes. This paper is of great importance for practical applications and it opens the way for further studies. (Prof. F. H. Wittmann, Aedificat Institute Freiburg, Germany)