Balancing strength and toughness of calcium-silicate-hydrate via random nanovoids and particle inclusions: Atomistic modeling and statistical analysis

N Zhang and R Shahsavari, JOURNAL OF THE MECHANICS AND PHYSICS OF SOLIDS, 96, 204-222 (2016).

DOI: 10.1016/j.jmps.2016.07.021

As the most widely used manufactured material on Earth, concrete poses serious societal and environmental concerns which call for innovative strategies to develop greener concrete with improved strength and toughness, properties that are exclusive in man-made materials. Herein, we focus on calcium silicate hydrate (C-S-H), the major binding phase of all Portland cement concretes, and study how engineering its nanovoids and portlandite particle inclusions can impart a balance of strength, toughness and stiffness. By performing an extensive +600 molecular dynamics simulations coupled with statistical analysis tools, our results provide new evidence of ductile fracture mechanisms in C-S-H - reminiscent of crystalline alloys and ductile metals - decoding the interplay between the crack growth, nanovoid/particle inclusions, and stoichiometry, which dictates the crystalline versus amorphous nature of the underlying matrix. We found that introduction of voids and portlandite particles can significantly increase toughness and ductility, specially in C-S-H with more amorphous matrices, mainly owing to competing mechanisms of crack deflection, voids coalescence, internal necking, accommodation, and geometry alteration of individual voids/particles, which together regulate toughness versus strength. Furthermore, utilizing a comprehensive global sensitivity analysis on random configuration-property relations, we show that the mean diameter of voids/particles is the most critical statistical parameter influencing the mechanical properties of C-S-H, irrespective of stoichiometry or crystalline or amorphous nature of the matrix. This study provides new fundamental insights, design guidelines, and de novo strategies to turn the brittle C-S-H into a ductile material, impacting modern engineering of strong and tough concrete infrastructures and potentially other complex brittle materials. (C) 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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