The objective of this research is to define the fundamental structure-property relationships of water-swollen polymer hydrogel particles that are employed as internal curing agents in cementitious mixtures, in addition to reporting a novel synthesis procedure for combining pozzolanic materials with hydrogel particles. Solution polymerization was performed to incorporate amorphous nanosilica particles within acrylic-based polymer hydrogel particles of varying chemical compositions (i.e., monomer ratio of acrylic acid (AA) to acrylamide (AM)). Experiments were designed to measure the absorption capacity and kinetics of hydrogel particles immersed in pure water and cementitious pore solution, as well as determine the impact of particles on cement paste microstructure. While majority-AM hydrogel particles displayed relatively stable absorption values during immersion in pore solution, majority-AA hydrogel particles desorbed fluid over time, most likely due to the interactions of multivalent cations in the absorbed solution with the anionic polymer network. Interestingly, the addition of negatively charged nanosilica particles accelerated and enhanced this desorption response. When incorporated into cement paste, majority-AM hydrogel particles encouraged the formation of calcium hydroxide and calcium silicate hydrate within the void space previously occupied by the swollen particles. When nanosilica was added to the hydrogel particles, a 53 % increase in the number of hydrogel voids containing hydrated product was observed for the 17 % AA hydrogel particles, and a 140 % increase was observed for the 83 % AA hydrogel particles. These results suggest that the combination of nanosilica with polymeric hydrogel particles provides a favorable environment for the pozzolanic reaction to proceed and that nanosilica aids in the replenishment of hydrogel void space with hydrated cement phases.


Hydrogel particles, nanosilica, internal curing, high-performance concrete, microstructure, chemical admixtures, superabsorbent polymer

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