Cementa develops more durable concrete using X-ray and neutron tomography

Grey concrete blocks in a concrete building with dark shadows.

Cold weather, rain and moisture take their toll on any construction material over time. To develop concrete that is more resistant to harsh weather, market-leading company Cementa AB used X-ray and neutron tomography research techniques to study what happens inside the material when exposed to cold temperatures.

Sometimes it is advantageous to combine different types of tomography techniques to get a 360 understanding of how a material behaves under certain conditions. For Cementa AB, one of Sweden’s largest building material manufacturers, a combination of neutron scattering and X-ray tomography research techniques is ideal for studying concrete.

Neutron scattering can reveal how water behaves within a material, while X-ray tomography can provide information about heavier elements in concrete, such as cement mortar.

Cementa AB teamed up with researchers from Malmö University and Lund University to study what happens in mortar, an ingredient in concrete, when exposed to different temperatures.

Comparing how changing temperatures affect cement quality

Images from the study: X-ray detects the structure of the cement mortar, and neutrons detect the water. Left: All water-filled pores. Right: the air-filled pores. Source: Cementa AB/D50 NeXT, ILL.

At the D50 NeXT dual-modality neutron and X-ray tomography experimental station at Institut Laue Langevin (ILL) in Grenoble, the research team exposed mortar samples to temperature cycles ranging from room temperature to -13⁰C three times. The mortar contained air entrainment agents – microscopic air bubbles that make cement more resistant to freezing and thawing.

The team was able to distinguish between water-filled and air-filled pores within the cement mortar, examine individual air voids in the material, and follow how the water saturation in those voids changed as the cement mortar froze and thawed.  

”This is the path to more sustainable products”

Combining neutron and X-ray tomography to answer this type of questions can bring new knowledge that leads to the development of new and more durable and sustainable products – and less waste.

“Having the opportunity to locate the water in cement-based materials during and after different types of loads is a fantastic opportunity to increase our knowledge about these materials and a new opportunity to verify existing complex models,” says Katja Frid, head of the Department of Materials Science and Applied Mathematics, Malmö University.

“This is the path to more sustainable products. The fact that the industry is involved from the beginning shows their great interest in these questions and the willingness to explore new technologies to get answers.”

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