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Speeding up concrete curing in cold weather

WITH South Africa’s winter season on its way, many concrete users will know that slower curing times could derail their contract or production schedules, but accelerating admixtures – or accelerators – are available to solve this challenge.

With the country’s generally temperate climate, it is easy to forget that many provinces and neighbouring Lesotho regularly experience sub-zero temperatures, points out Hannes Engelbrecht, concrete business unit director for domestic and Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) at CHRYSO Southern Africa.

Temperatures do not even need to reach freezing point; the concrete hydration process slows down steadily as temperature drops and actually stops when it goes below about 5 degrees Celsius.

A significant amount of current concrete construction – especially for wind turbine bases and foundations for solar photovoltaic infrastructure – is, in fact, taking place in provinces like the Northern Cape and Eastern Cape where temperatures fluctuate widely.

Efficient stripping time of formwork is crucial in allowing these projects to meet their stringent deadlines to complete construction and start delivering renewable energy.
“Low temperatures create a range of problems for contractors and concrete product manufacturers,” says Engelbrecht.

“Most projects in today’s world need to be delivered on a fast track basis, so there is no room for slow concrete curing to hold up the schedule. Similar constraints apply in the manufacture of precast products, where production must simply keep up with customer orders and delivery deadlines.”

He highlights that precast product manufacturers can use a combination of super plasticisers and accelerators to speed up their stripping times and reduce the storage space needed for products to cure.

Accelerators work during the first 18 hours of the concrete’s curing time to ensure efficient hydration required to depalletize. Should temperatures be lower than freezing point, this makes the concrete strong enough to resist the expansion of water as it freezes – so that the concrete will not crack.

Patrick Flannigan, technical manager of the concrete business unit at CHRYSO Southern Africa, explains that there are two categories of accelerator – chloride and non-chloride. While chloride-based accelerators are usually the first choice, they cannot be used if there is steel in the structure or where steel reinforcing is present due to the risk of rust, corrosion and degradation.

“If there is steel reinforcing in the concrete, then a non-chloride accelerator must be selected,” says Flannigan.

Regarding the use of accelerators in readymix concrete that must travel varying distances to site, he points out the accelerator is best applied once the readymix has arrived on the customer’s site. After it is added to the concrete in the mixing truck, it needs to be thoroughly mixed for 5 to 10 minutes before being poured. The admixture gives operators a good 30 to 40 minutes of workability before the accelerated hydration begins, depending on the type of concrete mix.

Another growing benefit of accelerators has emerged as a result of the global sustainability drive, he says, as cement producers, contractors and other customers aim to reduce their carbon footprint. This trend has seen the increased use of extenders such as fly ash and granulated slag in cement.

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