Fly ash-based geopolymers : identifying reactive glassy phases in potential raw materials
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Geopolymer cements present a unique opportunity to make concrete binders almost entirely out of waste stream materials. Geopolymers made from fly ash, a waste product of coal power generation, as the aluminosilicate source and caustic activating solution were the focus of this study. However, the use of waste stream materials presents many challenges. One major stumbling block is that fly ash is inherently variable in composition and difficult to comprehensively characterize. The purpose of this work was to clarify the relationship between fly ash composition and reactivity in geopolymer cements. Ten fly ashes comprising a wide compositional spectrum were selected for the study and were characterized using quantitative x-ray diffraction and multispectral image analysis (MSIA) of x-ray maps coupled with point compositional analysis. The fly ashes were mixed into geopolymer mortars to determine their reactivity when activated as geopolymers. I hypothesized that the fly ashes that performed well under geopolymer formation conditions would have similarities in the glassy phases identified in them. The fly ashes that resulted in geopolymers with high compressive strengths did have several glassy phases in common. The phases were typically high in calcium, high in silicon, and somewhat low in aluminum. To determine whether the common phases were soluble and therefore likely to be dissolved, a dissolution method was used in which fly ash was mixed with concentrated caustic solution and continuously agitated; after 7 d and 28 d, the solid residues from the dissolution were studied using MSIA. The results showed that most of the glassy phases hypothesized to react were reactive, although the results were somewhat complex due to the heterogeneity of fly ash. The MSIA method proposed in previous work was further developed through this study, and a new way of selecting the training classes for phase composition assignment in the images was proposed.