Evaluating reactivity and sorptivity of fly ash for use in concrete construction

  • G Islam

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This thesis describes research carried out to investigate techniques for (i) rapidly assessing the reactivity of fly ash; and (ii) evaluating its interaction with air-entraining admixtures (AEAs), both with regard to use in concrete. The materials considered for the project included, 54 fly ashes from 8 UK sources, and an additional three materials from Bangladesh, covering a range of fineness, loss-on-ignition (LOI) and production conditions (run-of-station, carbon removed, air-classified, co-combustion, oxy-fuel technology); Portland Cements (PCs) from five UK sources with various properties (strength classes 32.5 R, 42.5 N and 52.5 N); laboratory grade hydrated and quick limes; and three commercial AEAs and a standard laboratory grade reagent (surfactant). The research examining fly ash reactivity considered activity index tests to BS EN 450 (BSI, 2005c) as the reference and investigated tests covering fly ash properties/providing measures of fly ash behaviour to rapidly assess this. These included (i) fly ash fineness (45 µm sieve residue, or LASER particle size distribution (PSD) parameters), LOI and flow properties; (ii) accelerated curing of PC and lime-based mortars (iii) lime consumption by fly ash when combined with PC in paste or suspension (Frattini) or from a saturated lime solution; (iv) various measures of fly ash chemical composition (based on oxide/mineralogical analysis); and (v) a quicklime slaking test. The test results were validated by strength tests with 100 mm concrete cube. Results of the above indicated good correlations between fly ash fineness, mortar flow/water requirement and (pozzolanic) activity index (standard or accelerated curing). However, fly ash reactivity and fresh properties appeared to be influenced by the properties of the test PC (e.g. chemical composition and fineness) and there is a need to take this into account during assessment. Generally, finer fly ashes gave better flow; however, there is an optimum fineness (d90 ~40 µm) for best performance, and which is similar to the fineness of the test PC. Strong correlations between the accelerated and standard cured PC-based mortar indicate the latter can be used to estimate the former taking account of the fly ash properties. In view of eliminating the effect of PC properties on reactivity, mortar tests with laboratory grade hydrated lime suggested potential for this. However, for better assessment, this approach requires further work to address issues relating to slower rates of strength gain and increased time requirements, although high temperature conditions were used for curing. Measuring Ca(OH)2 consumption from fly ash/PC paste or suspension agreed with the behaviour in mortar, but needs special instruments (e.g. TGA or XRF). A similar approach with saturated lime did not work well, despite several measures being taken to try and improve this. The oxide and mineralogical analysis results of fly ash did not give good correlations with activity index, but improved when a factor combining them with fineness was considered. The test results were validated in concrete and with air-classified fly ashes from single sources which gave clear trend/behaviour. The lime slaking test was found to be ineffective for identifying fly ash reactivity. The reactivity assessment results were validated by carrying out concrete strength tests. In general, more consistent trends were obtained for fly ash from single source as noted with mortar earlier. Methods adopted/developed to assess the interaction of fly ash with AEA included (i) the foam index test; (ii) acid blue 80 (AB80) dye adsorption test (spectroscopic method); and (iii) methylene blue test. High variability in foam index test results between different operators were noted, which reflected differences in the degree of shaking applied and difficulties in identification of the test end point. Adoption of an automatic shaker and determination of suitable test conditions reduced this by more than 50%. Reliable test procedures were also established for the AB80 dye adsorption method. The results obtained from these tests gave very good correlations with fly ash specific surface area and the AEA dose required (both with commercial AEAs and standard reagent) for achieving target air contents in mortar and concrete. The methylene blue dye test also gave good correlations with these parameters, but was less effective for low LOI fly ashes. Between laboratory tests were carried out at three UKQAA members and considered, LOI, fineness (45 µm sieve and LASER PSD), and activity index. The results gave good agreement with those obtained at the Concrete Technology Unit for this work and again emphasized the role of fly ash fineness on its reactivity. Overall, fly ash fineness was found to be the best means of rapidly assessing its reactivity. Some of the other methods considered gave promising behaviour but require further refinements. Therefore, it is suggested that in addition to 45 µm sieve residue, other types of fineness measurement (e.g. sub 10 µm quantities, d50 and d90) can be considered suitable alternatives to activity index. Similarly, foam index tests with the automatic shaker or the AB80 test method could both be used as fly ash physical requirement tests, or in production control for air-entrained concrete.
    Date of Award2012
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsDorothy Hodgkin Postgraduate Award & United Kingdom Quality Ash Association
    SupervisorMichael McCarthy (Supervisor)


    • fly ash
    • reactivity assessment
    • sorptivity assessment
    • PSD
    • mortar
    • concrete
    • air-entrainment
    • specific surface area
    • admixture demand
    • dye absorption tests
    • acid blue 80
    • methylene blue
    • foam index

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