- Open Access
Corrosion Deterioration of Steel in Cracked SHCC
© The Author(s) 2017
- Received: 15 December 2016
- Accepted: 15 May 2017
- Published: 19 September 2017
The presence of cracks is unavoidable in reinforced concrete structures and also a gateway for chloride into concrete, leading to corrosion of steel reinforcing bars. So, crack control, crack width limitation and chloride threshold levels are well-established concepts in durability of reinforced concrete structures. This paper reports on accelerated chloride-induced corrosion in cracked reinforced strain-hardening cement-based composites and reinforced mortar beams, both in loaded and unloaded states. Corrosion rates are monitored and loss of mass and yield force, as well as corrosion pitting depth in steel bars are reported. The chloride content at different depths in specimens is also determined through XRF, and through chemical testing of acid and water soluble chloride content by titration. Finally, different relationships are drawn between crack properties, mass loss, yield force, corroded depth and chloride levels at the steel surface for different cover depths. It is found that the crack spacing and free chloride at the steel surface level are best correlated to the corrosion damage in the specimens.
- steel yield force
- pitting depth
- mass loss
Cracks in concrete act as pathways for quick ingress of chloride and water. There is evidence that a threshold crack width of about 0.05 mm exists for water permeability. For cracks wider than this threshold, water permeability increases by orders of magnitude (Wang et al. 1997). Chloride diffusivity has been shown to increase linearly with crack width increase in the range 0.03–0.2 mm (Djerbi et al. 2008). Little or no chloride appears to be transported through cracks with widths below the lower threshold of 0.03 mm, while the diffusivity stabilises at crack widths beyond the upper threshold (0.2 mm). Once oxygen also reaches the steel, an electrochemical cell forms and corrosion of steel reinforcement commences. In reinforced concrete structures (RCS) chloride ions act as a catalyst in the localised breakdown of the passive film on the steel surface. The passive film initially forms on steel as a result of the alkaline nature of the pore solution in concrete. A minimum concentration of chlorides on the steel, known as the chloride threshold level, is required to de-passivate the reinforcement and allow corrosion to occur (Angst et al. 2009; Pacheco and Polder 2016). Once the steel has been fully de-passivated, the rate of corrosion depends on the availability of oxygen and moisture, as well as structural geometry. After corrosion initiation, corrosion products (iron oxides and hydroxides) form and accumulate. These products have a greater volume than the original iron, which leads to internal stresses and may result in cracking and spalling of the concrete cover (Altoubat et al. 2016; Broomfield 2007). Corrosion initiation periods were investigated by the Huang (2006) in RC containing cracks of various widths. A maximum of 30 days to corrosion initiation was observed in specimens containing 0.025 mm wide cracks. For a crack width of 0.09 mm, the corrosion initiation period was about 14 days. Note that in this study, the specimens were exposed to a 10% salt aqueous solution continuously for 49 days of testing. It illustrates that the presence of wider cracks in concrete specimens accelerates the corrosion process and reduces the initiation period. However, in the same study no relationship was found between the corrosion rate and crack widths. The blockage of cracks with the corrosion products, and possible self-healing of cracks may reduce the corrosion rate in time. Another study by Mohammed et al. (2001) on microcell corrosion in cracked concrete found a linear relationship between the corrosion current density and crack widths in the range 0.1–0.7 mm at early stages. In a later stage, after 15 weeks of testing, no relationship was found.
In the chloride-induced corrosion process, a certain amount of chlorides must reach the steel to initiate the corrosion process. This value is significant because it is an input parameter in the service life design and service life prediction models of RCS. However, it is still uncertain what the threshold amount of chloride for corrosion initiation is, and thus guidelines for durability design, and preventative repair of RCS are unclear. Hausmann (1967) suggested that the critical chloride content (% by cement wt) is about 0.06–1.0%, while Pettersson (1993) and Schiessl and Raupach (1997) proposed ranges of 0.9–1.8% and 0.48–2.02%. The threshold chloride content depends on several factors like the concrete pH level, cement and admixture types and water/binder ratio. Another important issue is whether all the chloride inside concrete contributes to the corrosion process. Depending on the matrix binding capacity, some chloride may be bound in matrix compositions and do not contribute to the corrosion. So, the amount of free chloride in concrete may be more representative than the total chloride content. German and Zaborski (2011) suggested a threshold value for free chloride of about 0.35% (by concrete wt) in concrete. For the service life prediction of RCS, time to initiation of corrosion is typically modelled by Fick’s Law (Liang et al. 2009; Tang et al. 2015). The challenge in corrosion modelling is rigorous calibration at the hand of sufficiently large experimental data sets, as well as field validation.
The availability of research data on corrosion in fibre reinforced concrete (FRC) is also limited and not thoroughly understood due to the complex mechanism of corrosion itself (Yoo and Yoon 2016). A particular class of FRC is discussed in this paper, namely strain-hardening cement-based composites (SHCC) (Li 2012). The main feature of SHCC is the formation of multiple fine cracks and increased or maintained tensile resistance upon increased deformation whilst more cracks appear. Limited field and laboratory data exist for a new material like SHCC, and embedded steel bar reinforcement (R/SHCC), and only limited researches have been performed on total chloride content and corrosion in SHCC (Sahmaran et al. 2008; Kobayashi et al. 2010; Mihashi et al. 2011; Wittmann et al. 2011; Kobayashi and Rokugo 2013; Paul and van Zijl 2014, 2016).
SHCC and R/SHCC have the ability to form multiple cracks with limited crack widths during the strain-hardening phase (Paul and van Zijl 2013). It is further known that crack width and cover depth play an important role in corrosion of the steel reinforcing (Bashir et al. 2017; Soltani et al. 2013). However, what is unknown is the effect of crack spacing and whether an optimum range of crack spacing can be found that will limit the corrosion rate. Therefore it is the aim here to investigate the effect of crack spacing on chloride-induced corrosion of R/SHCC. This research paper presents the test program and results of accelerated chloride-induced corrosion of pre-cracked R/SHCC specimens with three levels of cover depths, and one level of steel bar reinforcement. As reference, reinforced mortar (R/mortar) specimens were also made with two different cover depths. Results are presented of laboratory tests over a minimum of 6 months to a maximum of 2 years of cyclic wetting and drying with chloride aqueous solution, on a total of 64 R/SHCC and R/mortar beam specimens. The corrosion rate, consequences of corrosion of steel bars in terms of mass loss and pitting depths, and total and free chloride profiles are studied. As far as the authors could establish, these are the first reports of free versus total chloride in SHCC, as are the proposed relations between loss of mass and resistance, as well as pitting depths in steel bars in R/SHCC. The outcome of this research is intended to contribute to durability design guidelines with respect to chloride-induced corrosion in R/SHCC.
Previous studies on corrosion of R/SHCC specimens found that little or no corrosion can be seen in the specimens, compared with significant corrosion observed in comparative R/mortar or reinforced steel fibre reinforced cementitious composites (R/SFRC) (Kobayashi et al. 2010; Mihashi et al. 2011; Kobayashi and Rokugo 2013). After 60 days of accelerated chloride exposure (5 min spraying with 3% NaCl aqueous solution every 6 h), Kobayashi et al. (2010) found no sign of corrosion discoloration on the surface of steel in cracked (0.02–0.06 mm crack widths) patched specimens made from high performance fibre reinforced cement composites (HPFRCC) with minimum of 0.75 to maximum 1.5% polyethylene (PE) fibre content. Mihashi et al. (2011) reported that only 11.8% of steel bar surface area was corroded, but with zero corrosion depth in hybrid fibre reinforced cementitious composite (HFRCC) specimens, compared with 100% corroded surface area and 3.1 mm corroded depth in reference mortar specimens. In their case, steel fibres were combined with polymeric fibre. The steel fibre acted as sacrificial anode, whereby rebar corrosion was significantly reduced. In this case specimens were subjected to a 3% NaCl solution by cyclic wetting and drying, while a potential of 3 V was applied continuously to the specimens for a period of about 1 year. In neither of these researches information of the loss of steel bar yield force due to corrosion was reported.
In a recent work it was found that corrosion reduces the capacity of steel bars in SHCC (Paul and van Zijl 2016), in which pitting corrosion could also be observed. Sahmaran et al. (2008) investigated the loss of flexural load capacity due to accelerated corrosion in both R/SHCC and R/mortar specimens. Reinforced specimens were kept in 5% NaCl solution for a minimum of 25 h, to a maximum of 300 h, while a potential of 30 V was applied to the steel in both the SHCC and mortar specimens. Four-point bending was performed on the specimens after a period of 25, 50, 75, 100 and 300 h of accelerated corrosion. In mortar specimens, 37% lower load capacity was found after 25 h of exposure than in control specimens (without any applied current). No significant change in flexural resistance was found in the R/SHCC specimens after 50 h of exposure. After 300 h of exposure, more than 55% loss in flexural capacity was found in R/SHCC, but in R/Mortar an 85% loss was found after just 75 h of exposure. In a similar type of experiment performed by Paul et al. (2017) also found lower corrosion mass loss in R/SHCC specimens when compared with R/Mortar specimens. In none of the researches mentioned here information about the number of cracks, crack spacing and their influence on corrosion deterioration was reported.
It should be noted that the electrically enhanced corrosion exposure as applied by Mihashi et al. (2011) and Sahmaran et al. (2008) replicates specific, aggressive corrosion conditions. A purely cyclic wetting–drying chloride exposure and a Coulostatic corrosion measuring technique have been performed by several researchers and are followed here. It is argued to be a replication of in situ corrosion in coastal regions (Glass 1995; Gonzalez et al. 2001; Andrade and Alonso 2004). The applied current and duration in the Coulostatic method is miniscule, causing negligible influence on the internal electrochemical corrosion mechanism in the specimens.
3.1 Mix Design of SHCC
Amount of materials (kg/m3) used in this research.
FS31 & FS32
3.2 Specimen Preparation for Corrosion Testing
Number of specimens, number of cracks and crack widths in FS32 and FM2.
Nr of specimens
Nr of notches/cracksa
3 @ 40 mm (N3)
5 @ 20 mm (N5)
3 @ 40 mm (N3)
5 @ 20 mm (N5)
3.3 Method of Forming Cracks in the Specimens
3.4 Corrosion Test Setup
In this study the cracked specimens were subjected to the cyclic wetting (3 days) with 3.5% NaCl aqueous solution, followed by drying (4 days). FS2, CS2, FM1 and CM1 specimens were subjected to capillary absorption in unloaded state (up to 108 weeks for SHCC and 85 weeks for mortar). Note that, only one directional capillary absorption of the chloride solution through the cracked face of specimens was allowed. In this case, the central 200 mm cracked length of each specimen was placed in contact with chloride solution, and other surfaces were sealed. In contrast, a ponding method was followed in case of FS31 (up to 57 weeks), FS32 (up to 28 weeks) and FM2 (up to 28 weeks) on specimens in the loaded state. Here a 200 mm long and 100 mm wide pond was made on the cracked surface of each specimen by non-absorbent plastic as shown in Fig. 1b. All the connections between plastic and the specimen surface were sealed to prevent leakage.
A Coulostatic method was used to measure the corrosion rate. It replicates the Randles circuit, a type of polarisation measuring technique, where a small amount of a known current (ΔI) is passed through the steel for a known amount of time (Δt) while the potential decay (ΔE) is observed. The polarisation resistance (R p ) of the concrete can then be determined from the ΔI/ΔE ratio. The Y10 steel reinforcing bar acted as the working electrode (WE), the stainless steel as the CE, and an Ag/AgCl half-cell was used as the reference electrode as seen in Fig. 1d. For the corrosion rate measurement, a Spider8 data logger was used while a current of 4 mA was applied to each of the specimens for a period of 5 mS by a laboratory built current pulse generator. The reading from each specimen was collected on the last day of each wet and dry cycle. Note that in the case of FS31 specimens with 15 mm cover, lower perturbation was found for the 4 mA applied current and as a result a different current (10 mA) was applied for a 6 mS time period for these specimens.
3.5 Method of Determining Chloride Content
Chloride penetration profiles were drawn for both R/SHCC and R/mortar specimens after a certain period of accelerated testing. More than 20 specimens were chosen from different SHCC and mortar types after different exposure periods. Chloride profiles were then obtained by drilling from the exposed surface in layers of 3 mm each, up to a depth of 45 mm in most specimens. A 16 mm drill was used to collect powder samples at the different layers in specimens. For a single layer, a minimum of 6 g powder sample was collected. Powder samples were obtained from at least 4–6 different drilled positions in a specimen, in order to collect the required sample size. All the drillings were performed on cracked positions, for the powder samples to be representative of cracked regions in the specimens (Paul 2015). So, the chloride content obtained here is one-dimensional, and it is the average value of different cracked positions in a single layer. X-ray fluorescence (XRF) was used to determine the total chloride content in each 6 g powder sample. Chemical analysis was also used to determine both total and free chloride content in each layer. For these chemical analyses the RILEM TC 178-TMC (2002a, b) recommendations were followed.
SHCC and mortar fresh and mechanical properties.
f cu (MPa)
f u,st (MPa)
f cr,st (MPa)
ε u,st (%)
FS31 & FS32
FM1 & FM2
4.1 Flexural Cracks in the R/SHCC Specimens
4.2 Corroded Depth in R/SHCC and R/Mortar Specimens
4.3 Visual Observation of Corrosion Damage
4.4 Loss of Yield Force and Pitting in Steel Bars Due to Corrosion
From Fig. 8 it is interesting to see that the experimental residual yield force capacity for SHCC specimens with exactly the same exposure times is greater for N3 and N5 specimens than for N1. Higher standard variations are seen in the N5 specimens. In case of C15 specimens, 5.4, 4 and 4.7% lower steel yield force were observed in N1, N3 and N5 specimens in comparison with the virgin steel. Similarly for C25 specimens, the losses of yield forces were 5, 3.9 and 4% respectively for N1, N3 and N5 specimens than virgin steel. So, with the limited data set reported here, it is noticed that there is a trend of increasing retained yield force for smaller crack spacing. This is in agreement with Fig. 4c, i.e. smaller corroded depth, more distributed corrosion and lower pitting depth. Also, a slightly higher retained yield force is found for the larger cover of 25 mm, than for the specimens with 15 mm cover. No noticeable difference was observed in FM2 for different cover depth of the N1 specimens.
4.5 Chloride Content in the R/SHCC and R/Mortar Specimens
4.6 Relationship Between XRF and Chemical Total Chloride
4.7 Total and Free Chloride Content at Different Depth of Specimens
In this research the difference between the chemical total and free chloride at different depths in SHCC specimens was found to be in a range of 5–65%. In case of NC, this difference was found to be in a range of 10–53% by Liu (1996). So, the results obtained in this research show a similar trend in the matrix of SHCC used here with that of NC.
Depending on the availability of oxygen and moisture in the specimen, the corrosion rate of steel can vary with time. It is also difficult to know whether the steel is in an active or passive state of corrosion inside concrete, since it is not possible to see the real corrosion damage in the steel embedded in the concrete. As a result the assumption of Stern and Geary constant (B) value may under or overestimate the real corrosion rate in steel bars. Therefore, the corrosion in steel is indeed a complex process and depends on many factors.
5.1 Influence of Chloride Content and Mass Loss of Steel in Corrosion
5.2 Effect of Cracking in Chloride Penetration
Average and maximum crack widths and crack spacing in the R/SHCC are smaller for larger cover depth of the steel bar. From the particular type of SHCC used in this research, it appears that a 25 mm cover depth is the threshold cover depth for limiting the crack width in R/SHCC.
Mass loss, pitting depth and loss of yield force are considered to be low in all specimens, despite up to 108 weeks of cyclic wetting and drying chloride exposure. After 108 weeks of such exposure, a maximum pitting depth of 1.4 mm was found in the 10 mm diameter steel bars, with the average pitting depth in the range 0.1–0.5 mm. For lower exposure durations, the average pitting depths were lower at 0.1–0.4 mm after 57 weeks, and 0.1–0.3 mm after 28 weeks of cyclic chloride exposure. This led to a maximum loss of yield force of the bars of about 17% in a CS2_C15B1 specimens.
In chloride-induced corrosion performed here, higher corroded depths (measured by a Coulostatic method), actual measured pitting depths, and higher loss of yield force in the steel were found in the specimens with cover depth of 15 mm than for 25 and 35 mm cover depths. No significant difference was observed in the specimens with 25 and 35 mm cover depths.
A significant reduction in tensile strain capacity was found for SHCC produced with coarse sand (CS2) compared with fine sand. However, there were no significant differences in the pitting depths and loss of yield force of steel in coarse sand specimens CS2 and CM1 than in fine sand specimens FS2 and FM1.
Free chloride content in the specimen at the level of the steel bar appears to correlate better with the corrosion damage than total chloride content. However, while the role of chloride in corrosion initiation has been studied widely, its role in corrosion propagation and corrosion rate must be investigated further.
The XRF method can be an alternative method for chemical testing in determining total chloride content in SHCC. Both total and free chloride content reduced with depth into the specimens and the difference between chemical total and free chloride content was found to be in the range of 5–65%, depending on the depth in the specimen.
The actual mass loss of steel bars is related to the corroded depths and loss of yield force of R/FS32 and R/FM2 specimens. The pitting depth in the steel bars was larger for larger average crack spacing in the R/SHCC specimens.
A larger number of cracks, associated with finer crack spacing, lead to significantly lower corrosion damage in R/SHCC.
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