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Valorization of a Steel Industrial Co-Product for the Development of Alkali-Activated Materials: Effect of Curing Environments

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While natural resources are becoming scarce and climate change is accelerating, the recovery and recycling of wastes and by-products is an effective way to deal with the economic and ecological constraints of recent decades. The valorization of industrial by-products in civil engineering is a common practice either by their incorporation during the manufacture of Portland cements or as a partial replacement of cement during the production of concrete. The present work aims to develop waste-based alkali-activated materials WAAMs intended for civil engineering applications as a potential alternative to cement-based materials. A steel industrial by-product called commonly granulated blast furnace slag GBFS was used alone as a solid CaO-rich precursor; two alkaline activators such us sodium silicate (Na2SiO3) and sodium hydroxide (NaOH) were used separately for the production of two-part alkali-activated materials. Besides the microstructure analysis of the hardened samples, the influence of activator/precursor mass ratio, NaOH molarity, and two curing environments (Room temperature and 60°C) on the compressive strength, water accessible porosity, mass loss, and drying shrinkage were assessed. The results showed that a high Liquid/Solid ratio leads to a decrease in the compressive strength of the samples, while high NaOH molarity significantly improves the mechanical properties by reducing the porosity of the specimens. Moreover, alkaline silicate activator provides higher compressive strengths compared to the alkaline hydroxide activator, especially when the samples were cured at room temperature where a maximum 28days-compressive strength value of 105.28 MPa was achieved. For the samples activated using sodium hydroxide solution, the results revealed that their curing at 60°C promotes obtaining high initial-compressive strengths (7 days) before decreasing subsequently as a function of the curing time. As an indication, at high alkaline concentration (NaOH = 9M), a mechanical strength decline of 21% was recorded between a curing time of 7 to 28 days. Moreover, curing at 60°C induced high porosity, significant mass loss and high drying shrinkage. SEM analysis highlighted a dense, homogeneous microstructure without apparent defects, in particular for the samples where the alkali silicate activator was used.

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Materials Sciences, Functional and Smart Materials