The effects of liquid nitrogen on concrete hydration, microstructure, and properties
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Controlling the placement and hydration temperature of concrete is important to concrete durability. Thermal gradients and delayed ettringite formation (DEF) result in cracking when concrete in the plastic state becomes too hot. Cooler placement temperatures slow hydration reaction, increase working time, reduce the maximum temperature in the concrete member, and reduce thermal gradients. Furthermore, cooler concrete achieves better long-term strength and microstructural development. Concrete producers have been using multiple methods of reducing the placement temperature of concrete, such as cooling mixtures with ice or chilled water, shading aggregate piles, placing concrete at night, and using evaporative cooling of aggregate piles. More recently, concrete producers have turned to liquid nitrogen for cooling fresh concrete. The objective of this research was to determine the effects of liquid nitrogen on concrete hydration, microstructural development, and performance. The following concrete mixture properties and methods were investigated: cement type, the effects of selected supplementary cementing materials and chemical admixtures, placement temperature, and the time at which liquid nitrogen dosing occurs (delayed dosing). Concrete performance was tested in terms of slump, setting time, yield, compressive and splitting tensile strength, elastic modulus, rapid chloride permeability, and hardened and fresh air void analysis. Hydration and microstructural development were monitored by isothermal calorimetry, semi-adiabatic calorimetry, x-ray diffractometry, inductively coupled plasma, and environmental scanning electron microscopy. Additional testing was performed on concrete mixing drums to determine the effects of liquid nitrogen on the durability of steel mixing drums. The results indicate that performance, hydration, and microstructural development of fresh concrete are relatively unaffected when cooled with liquid nitrogen to room temperatures. Significant findings show that the slump of liquid nitrogen cooled concrete is similar to hot concrete mixtures and not room temperature mixtures. Additionally, setting time results show that liquid nitrogen dosing of hot concrete can be delayed for up to 1 hour and setting times will still be similar to room temperature mixtures. Based on findings from this research study, liquid nitrogen is recommended as a primary cooling option to reduce the placement temperature of fresh concrete.