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Superplasticizers, also known as high range water reducers, are chemical admixtures used where well-dispersed particle suspension is required. These polymers are used as dispersants to avoid particle aggregation(gravel,coarse and fine sands), and to improve the flow characteristics (rheology) of suspensions such as in concrete applications. Their addition to concrete or mortar allows the reduction of the water to cement ratio, not affecting the workability of the mixture, and enables the production of self-consolidating concrete and high performance concrete. This effect drastically improves the performance of the hardening fresh paste. The strength of concrete increases when the water to cement ration decreases. However, their working mechanisms lack a full understanding, revealing in certain cases cement-superplasticizer incompatibilities.
Polycarboxylate ether superplasticizer
The new generation of this kind of admixtures is represented by polycarboxylate ether-based superplasticizers (PCEs). With a relatively low dosage (0.15–0.3% by cement weight) they allow a water reduction up to 40%, due to their chemical structure which enables good particle dispersion.
PCEs are composed by a methoxy-polyethylene glycol copolymer (side chain) grafted with methacrylic acid copolymer (main chain). The carboxylic acid COONa dissociates in water, providing a negative charge along the PCE backbone. The polyethylene oxide (PEO or MPEG) group affords a not uniform distribution of electron cloud, which gives a chemical polarity to the side chains. The number and the length of side chains are flexible parameters that are easy to change. When the side chains have a huge amount of EO units, they lower with their high molar mass the charge density of the polymer, which enables poor performances on cement suspensions. To have both parameters on the same time, long side chain and high charge density, one can keep the number of main-chain-units much higher than the number of side-chain-units.
PCE's backbone, which is negatively charged, permits the adsorption on the positively charged colloidal particles. As a consequence of PCE adsorption, the zeta potential of the suspended particles changes, due to the adsorpsion of the COO- groups on the colloid surface. This displacement of the polymer on the particle surface ensures to the side chains the possibility to exert repulsion forces, which disperse the particles of the suspension and avoid friction. These forces can be directly detected by the use of the atomic force microscopy (AFM), working with model substances in liquid environment.
- Ramachandran, V.S. (1995) Concrete Admixtures Handbook – Properties, Science, and Technology, 2nd Edition, William Andrew Publishing, ISBN 0-8155-1373-9 p. 121
- Ferrari, L; Kaufmann, J; Winnefeld, F; Plank, J (2011). "Multi-method approach to study influence of superplasticizers on cement suspensions". Cement and Concrete Research 41 (10): 1058. doi:10.1016/j.cemconres.2011.06.010.
- Winnefeld, F; Becker, S; Pakusch, J; Goetz, T (2011). "Effects of the molecular architecture of comb-shaped superplasticizers on their performance in cementitious systems". Cement and Concrete Composites 41 (10): 1058. doi:10.1016/j.cemconcomp.2006.12.006.
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- Ferrari, L; Kaufmann, J; Winnefeld, F; Plank, J (2010). "Interaction of cement model systems with superplasticizers investigated by atomic force microscopy, zeta potential, and adsorption measurements". Journal of colloid and interface science 347 (1): 15–24. doi:10.1016/j.jcis.2010.03.005. PMID 20356605.