Internal curing offers benefits of improved hydration, reduced chloride ingress, and reduced early age cracking, which helps concrete achieve its maximum potential as a sustainable building material by extending its service life.
Internally cured concrete is not a new concept; some might even say it is ancient since it can be considered to date back to concrete constructed during the Roman Empire. What is new, however, is a more complete understanding of how internal curing (IC) works and a way to design for IC. We also have a better understanding of why IC increases the durability and service life of concrete in an economical and practical way.
What is Internal Curing?
In the past, curing concrete was a process done using water from the outside in. But today, expanded shale and clay is used as a substitute for normal-weight aggregates to provide a source of moisture for internal curing that promotes more complete hydration of various cementitious materials.
Internal Curing is a practical way of supplying additional curing water throughout the concrete mixture. This is done by using water absorbed in expanded shale or clay lightweight aggregate, which replaces some of the conventional aggregate in the mixture. IC is often referred to as “curing concrete from the inside out.” Due to the inherently low permeability of the surrounding environment, internal curing is particularly beneficial in concrete with a low-water-cementitious material ratio (w/cm) where external curing has little effect on hydration in the internal portion of the concrete. With an emphasis on durability, and with the trend to high performance concrete, internal curing is needed to reduce both autogenous shrinkage and cracking.
The American Concrete Institute defines internal curing as “supplying water throughout a freshly placed cementitious mixture using reservoirs, via pre-wetted lightweight aggregates, that readily release water as needed for hydration or to replace moisture lost through evaporation or self-desiccation”
While internal curing occurs in conventional lightweight concrete, it is only recently that internal curing has been intentionally incorporated into normal weight concrete to improve its properties.
Why is Internal Curing Used?
Internal curing provides something that most concrete needs and conventional curing cannot provide: additional water that helps prevent early age shrinkage and increases hydration of cementitious materials throughout the concrete. Although IC has shown benefits at w/cm up to 0.55 (Espinoza-Hijazin and Lopez, 2010), the need for internal curing increases as the w/cm is lowered. Research shows that even in moderate w/cm (0.40 to 0.46) mixtures, the cement hydration is often not nearly complete, even after many months.
Once concrete sets, hydration creates partially-filled pores in the cement paste which causes stress that results in shrinkage. IC provides readily available additional water throughout the concrete, so hydration can continue while more of the pores in the cement paste remain saturated. This reduces shrinkage and early age curling/warping, increases strength, and lowers the permeability of the concrete, making it more resistant to chloride penetration.
Internal curing has been shown to work well with supplementary cement materials (SCM), especially at higher dosage levels, because fly ash and slag have increased water demand during their reaction, compared to hydrating portland cement. Internal curing does not replace conventional surface curing, but works with it to make concrete better. Internal curing can also help compensate for less than ideal weather conditions and poor conventional curing that is often seen in the real world.
Trinity Lightweight’s intraCure™ cures concrete from the inside out. IntraCure utilizes Trinity Lightweight's expanded shale and clay lightweight aggregate to provide additional curing water inside the concrete to reduce shrinkage and early age cracking. Because the internal curing water is supplied from absorbed water in the pores of the lightweight aggregate, it does not affect the water-cementitious material ratio (w/cm), but makes the additional water available at the time of set, allowing more of the cement to hydrate.Read More
Internal curing has clearly demonstrated its beneficial effects on the performance of concrete bridge decks. The addition of pre-wetted lightweight aggregates to concrete mixtures can help reduce shrinkage stresses by reducing moisture differentials through the depth of a slab.
Denver Water Department’s three successful water tank projects drive an ongoing demand for internally cured concrete across multiple districts.
From an engineering perspective, Mitch Wyble really likes what he sees when he assesses the value of internally cured concrete (ICC), a concrete mixture where a portion of the fine aggregate is replaced with similar sized prewetted lightweight aggregate (LWA). Wyble first encountered ICC a few years ago while serving on the Technical Committee of the Concrete and Aggregates Association of Louisiana (CAAL).
When the Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development (LADOTD) needed to construct a bridge on U.S. 80 over the Kansas City Southern railroad tracks to accommodate two lanes of northbound and southbound traffic, it decided to incorporate internally cured concrete (ICC) into its completion plan.
It's been a decade since one of the largest internal curing paving projects in the United States kicked off with the placement of over 250,000 cubic yards of concrete paving. Dubbed the Union Pacific Dallas Intermodal Terminal (DIT), this unique project remains an excellent testament of lightweight aggregate's ability to improve the durability, strength, and quality of concrete paving.