Mideast concrete mixes under study

Studies have proved that the waters of the Arabian Gulf are extremely corrosive and practically, all the buildings are sitting in saltwater saturated soil. (EB FILE)

United Corrosion Technologies (UCT), a corrosion solutions provider, has initiated a five-year research project on the evaluation of the service life of reinforced concrete structures in the Middle East from its Dubai office, according to a senior official.

The other four partners in the research consortium comprise Trakhees (the Department of Planning and Development), GHD (an international consultancy), the American University of Dubai and the Abu-Dhabi-headquartered Transgulf Readymix. The first lab test will commence soon and the outcome will be announced in April 2011 and annually thereafter.

"We have initiated a research project where we will test 17 mixes of concrete common to the region. We are casting those specimens and will be placing them in exposure sites on the Arabian Gulf, Red Sea, Dead Sea and the Mediterranean and get field data versus lab data," said Usama Jacir, Managing Director of UCT in Dubai. "We've been in discussions for six months to set up this venture with interested parties. We are covering the bills for lab testing and will share the field testing costs. We have not identified the final costs. We have done our first specimen and will meet today to discuss the start of the lab testing. The tests will be conducted over five years and may be extended. We will announce the outcome on an annual basis." He was not willing to discuss investment costs.

Much of the technology currently used in the region has been developed in the West and from areas that are not as corrosive as this region, he told Emirates Business. Hence the initiative found a good receptivity from the UAE organisations to researching a crucial subject that will help the construction industry in the region and provide data relevant to the area.

"We are working with GHD and Trakhees who have been very supportive and joined us this initiative. The American University of Dubai, which is also part of this venture, has just set up a new research centre (Infrastructure Sustainability and Assessment Center) and will be paid to do the lab tests for us. TransGulf Readymix will provide us with concrete supplies and will do all the concrete mixes," he added.

Studies have proved that the waters of the Arabian Gulf are extremely corrosive and only second to the Dead Sea in the levels of chloride. "It has 50 per cent more chloride than the Atlantic Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Besides, the groundwater in the region has four times the salinity of the sea. Practically, all the buildings are sitting in saltwater saturated soil. The issue of durability is considered by identifying the service life of the structure and the environment and how to achieve that and this can be done by mathematical modelling studies, which is what we do at UCT," said Jacir. "The differences are in the depth of water. Normally, the closer to the sea body, the higher the water table but we also have the sabkha waters, which is as saline. You also have areas that are far from the sea but are also as saline."

He said whenever a building is licensed, the Dubai Municipality collects the area data and/or reports. "The Dubai Central Laboratory has compiled data on chloride levels, which enables you to map the areas before construction," said Jacir. "In the course of this study, we will investigate details on how pozzolanic materials, slag and fly ash [recycled materials] affect the permeability of concrete and subsequently impact the passivity of steel and its service life. We would also like to explore how much its service life can be extended in relation to increasing the concrete cover. Studies in general show different results to the theoretical results. We will cast beams in the soil and place different bars at different levels to measure corrosion rates, like say 25 mm, 50 mm and so on, and see how they react to the same environmental conditions."

Another debate is that standard concrete testing needs 28 days for curing in a moist room. "But the reality is maximum three days of providing moisture. We also need to check this out,' he added.

UCT is headquartered in Jordan (the Jordan office handles Saudi Arabia, Levant and North Africa) and its Dubai office handles the remaining GCC countries. "We work on two fronts – with engineering companies to get into the specifications and then once the project is tendered and the contract starts, we work with the concrete suppliers. We are not on the growth projections that we saw earlier but we are using this time to expand in this region and are setting up in Saudi Arabia," said Jacir. "In the last few years, we have invested in Qatar, Kuwait and Oman and are now seeing good results. We have been on a 50-per cent plus growth year on year so far. But in 2010 we are having a hard time deciding our projections. We find that we are involved in many more projects but they are slow."

Apart from the building sector, the company's client list includes all the major oil and gas companies in the GCC such as Adnoc, Gasco, Adco, PDO and infrastructural sector clients such as Dewa and Adwea.

It is also involved in awareness raising campaigns among transport organisations such as Abu Dhabi DoT and the RTA.


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