Alkali activated systems: understanding the influence of curing conditions and activator type/chemistry on the mechanical strength and chemical structure of fly ash/slag systems
The alkali activation of aluminosilicate materials as binder systems derived from industrial byproducts have been extensively studied due to the advantages they offer in terms enhanced material properties, while increasing sustainability by the reuse of industrial waste and byproducts and reducing the adverse impacts of OPC production. Fly ash and ground granulated blast furnace slag are commonly used for their content of soluble silica and aluminate species that can undergo dissolution, polymerization with the alkali, condensation on particle surfaces and solidification. The following topics are the focus of this thesis: (i) the use of microwave assisted thermal processing, in addition to heat-curing as a means of alkali activation and (ii) the relative effects of alkali cations (K or Na) in the activator (powder activators) on the mechanical properties and chemical structure of these systems. Unsuitable curing conditions instigate carbonation, which in turn lowers the pH of the system causing significant reductions in the rate of fly ash activation and mechanical strength development. This study explores the effects of sealing the samples during the curing process, which effectively traps the free water in the system, and allows for increased aluminosilicate activation. The use of microwave-curing in lieu of thermal-curing is also studied in order to reduce energy consumption and for its ability to provide fast volumetric heating. Potassium-based powder activators dry blended into the slag binder system is shown to be effective in obtaining very high compressive strengths under moist curing conditions (greater than 70 MPa), whereas sodium-based powder activation is much weaker (around 25 MPa). Compressive strength decreases when fly ash is introduced into the system. Isothermal calorimetry is used to evaluate the early hydration process, and to understand the reaction kinetics of the alkali powder activated systems. A qualitative evidence of the alkali-hydroxide concentration of the paste pore solution through the use of electrical conductivity measurements is also presented, with the results indicating the ion concentration of alkali is more prevalent in the pore solution of potassium-based systems. The use of advanced spectroscopic and thermal analysis techniques to distinguish the influence of studied parameters is also discussed.