Silica fume

Silica fume

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Silica fume, also known as microsilica, is a fine-grain, thin, and very high surface area silica.

It is sometimes confused with fumed silica
Fumed silica
Fumed silica, also known as pyrogenic silica because it is produced in a flame, consists of microscopic droplets of amorphous silica fused into branched, chainlike, three-dimensional secondary particles which then agglomerate into tertiary particles. The resulting powder has an extremely low bulk...

 (also known as pyrogenic silica) and colloidal silica. These materials have different derivations, technical characteristics, and applications.


The history of silica fume is relatively short, the first recorded testing of silica fume in Portland cement
In the most general sense of the word, a cement is a binder, a substance that sets and hardens independently, and can bind other materials together. The word "cement" traces to the Romans, who used the term opus caementicium to describe masonry resembling modern concrete that was made from crushed...

 based concrete
Concrete is a composite construction material, composed of cement and other cementitious materials such as fly ash and slag cement, aggregate , water and chemical admixtures.The word concrete comes from the Latin word...

s was in 1952 and it wasn’t until the early 1970’s that concretes containing silica fume came into even limited use. The biggest drawback to discovering the unique properties of silica fume and its potential was a lack of silica fume to experiment with. Early research used an expensive additive called Fumed silica, a colloidal form of silica made by combustion of silicon tetrachloride in hydrogen-oxygen furnaces. Silica fume on the other hand, is a by-product or a very fine pozzolanic material, composed of mostly amorphous silica produced by electric arc furnaces during the production of elemental silicon or ferro silicon alloys. Before the late 1960’s in Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 and the mid1970’s in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, silica fume simply went up the stack as smoke vented into the atmosphere .

Only with the implementation of tougher environmental laws during the mid-1970’s did silicon smelters begin to capture and collect the silica fume, instead of sending it to the landfill. Thus the push was on to find uses for it. Obviously, the early work done in Norway received most of the attention, since it had shown that Portland cement based concretes containing silica fumes had very high strengths and low porosities. Since then silica fume usage and development has continued making it one of the world’s most valuable and versatile admixtures for concrete and cementitous products. Typically purchased by the refractory market in a 50 lb. bag this very fine gray powder has come along way from being known only as “smoke”.


Silica fume consists of fine vitreous
Glass is an amorphous solid material. Glasses are typically brittle and optically transparent.The most familiar type of glass, used for centuries in windows and drinking vessels, is soda-lime glass, composed of about 75% silica plus Na2O, CaO, and several minor additives...

 particles with a surface area on the order of 215,280 ft²/lb (20,000 m²/kg) when measured by nitrogen adsorption techniques, with particles approximately one hundredth the size of the average cement particle.


Silica fume is a byproduct in the reduction of high-purity quartz
Quartz is the second-most-abundant mineral in the Earth's continental crust, after feldspar. It is made up of a continuous framework of SiO4 silicon–oxygen tetrahedra, with each oxygen being shared between two tetrahedra, giving an overall formula SiO2. There are many different varieties of quartz,...

 with coke
Coke (fuel)
Coke is the solid carbonaceous material derived from destructive distillation of low-ash, low-sulfur bituminous coal. Cokes from coal are grey, hard, and porous. While coke can be formed naturally, the commonly used form is man-made.- History :...

 in electric arc furnace
Electric arc furnace
An electric arc furnace is a furnace that heats charged material by means of an electric arc.Arc furnaces range in size from small units of approximately one ton capacity up to about 400 ton units used for secondary steelmaking...

s in the production of silicon
Silicon is a chemical element with the symbol Si and atomic number 14. A tetravalent metalloid, it is less reactive than its chemical analog carbon, the nonmetal directly above it in the periodic table, but more reactive than germanium, the metalloid directly below it in the table...

 and ferrosilicon
Ferrosilicon, or ferrosilicium, is a ferroalloy, an alloy of iron and silicon with between 15% and 90% silicon. It contains a high proportion of iron silicides. Its melting point is about 1200 °C to 1250 °C with a boiling point of 2355 °C...



Because of its extreme fineness and high silica content, silica fume is a very effective pozzolan
A pozzolan is a material which, when combined with calcium hydroxide, exhibits cementitious properties. Pozzolans are commonly used as an addition to Portland cement concrete mixtures to increase the long-term strength and other material properties of Portland cement concrete, and in some cases...

ic material. Standard specifications for silica fume used in cementitious mixtures are ASTM C1240, EN 13263.

Silica fume is added to Portland cement
Portland cement
Portland cement is the most common type of cement in general use around the world because it is a basic ingredient of concrete, mortar, stucco and most non-specialty grout...

Concrete is a composite construction material, composed of cement and other cementitious materials such as fly ash and slag cement, aggregate , water and chemical admixtures.The word concrete comes from the Latin word...

 to improve its properties, in particular its compressive strength
Compressive strength
Compressive strength is the capacity of a material or structure to withstand axially directed pushing forces. When the limit of compressive strength is reached, materials are crushed. Concrete can be made to have high compressive strength, e.g...

, bond strength
Bond strength
In chemistry, bond strength is measured between two atoms joined in a chemical bond. It is the degree to which each atom linked to another atom contributes to the valency of this other atom...

, and abrasion
Abrasion (mechanical)
Abrasion is the process of scuffing, scratching, wearing down, marring, or rubbing away. It can be intentionally imposed in a controlled process using an abrasive...

 resistance. These improvements stem from both the mechanical improvements resulting from addition of a very fine powder to the cement paste mix as well as from the pozzolanic reaction
Pozzolanic reaction
The Pozzolanic reaction is the chemical reaction that occurs in hydraulic cement, a mixture of slaked lime with amorphous siliceous materials , forming non-water-soluble calcium silicate hydrates...

s between the silica fume and free calcium hydroxide
Calcium hydroxide
Calcium hydroxide, traditionally called slaked lime, is an inorganic compound with the chemical formula Ca2. It is a colourless crystal or white powder and is obtained when calcium oxide is mixed, or "slaked" with water. It has many names including hydrated lime, builders lime, slack lime, cal, or...

 in the paste.

Addition of silica fume also reduces the permeability
Permeability (fluid)
Permeability in fluid mechanics and the earth sciences is a measure of the ability of a porous material to allow fluids to pass through it.- Units :...

 of concrete to chloride
The chloride ion is formed when the element chlorine, a halogen, picks up one electron to form an anion Cl−. The salts of hydrochloric acid HCl contain chloride ions and can also be called chlorides. The chloride ion, and its salts such as sodium chloride, are very soluble in water...

An ion is an atom or molecule in which the total number of electrons is not equal to the total number of protons, giving it a net positive or negative electrical charge. The name was given by physicist Michael Faraday for the substances that allow a current to pass between electrodes in a...

s, which protects the reinforcing steel
A rebar , also known as reinforcing steel, reinforcement steel, rerod, or a deformed bar, is a common steel bar, and is commonly used as a tensioning device in reinforced concrete and reinforced masonry structures holding the concrete in compression...

 of concrete from corrosion
Corrosion is the disintegration of an engineered material into its constituent atoms due to chemical reactions with its surroundings. In the most common use of the word, this means electrochemical oxidation of metals in reaction with an oxidant such as oxygen...

, especially in chloride-rich environments such as coastal regions and those of humid continental roadways and runways (because of the use of deicing
For snow and ice control on roadways and similar facilities, see Snow removalDe-icing is defined as removal of snow, ice or frost from a surface...

 salts) and saltwater
Seawater is water from a sea or ocean. On average, seawater in the world's oceans has a salinity of about 3.5% . This means that every kilogram of seawater has approximately of dissolved salts . The average density of seawater at the ocean surface is 1.025 g/ml...


Prior to the mid-1970s, nearly all silica fume was discharged into the atmosphere. After environmental concerns necessitated the collection and landfill
A landfill site , is a site for the disposal of waste materials by burial and is the oldest form of waste treatment...

ing of silica fume, it became economically viable to use silica fume in various applications, in particular high-performance concrete.
effect of silica fume on different properties of fresh and harden concrete:-

a) Workability: With the addition of silica fume, the slump
Concrete slump test
The concrete slump test is used for the measurement of a property of fresh concrete.The test is an emprical test that measures the workability of fresh concrete. More specifically, it measures the consistency of the concrete in that specific batch. It is also used to determine consistency between...

 loss with time is directly proportional to increase in the silica fume content due to the introduction of large surface area in the concrete mix by its addition. Although the slump decreases, the mix remains highly cohesive.

b) Segregation and Bleeding: Silica fume reduces bleeding significantly because the free water is consumed in wetting of the large surface area of the silica fume and hence the free water left in the mix for bleeding also decreases. Silica fume also blocks the pores in the fresh concrete so water within the concrete is not allowed to come to the surface.

See also

  • Engineered Cementitious Composite
    Engineered Cementitious Composite
    Engineered Cementitious Composite , also called bendable concrete, is an easily molded mortar-based composite reinforced with specially selected short random fibers, usually polymer fibers. Unlike regular concrete, ECC has a strain capacity in the range of 3–7%, compared to 0.1 % for ordinary...

  • Fly ash
    Fly ash
    Fly ash is one of the residues generated in combustion, and comprises the fine particles that rise with the flue gases. Ash which does not rise is termed bottom ash. In an industrial context, fly ash usually refers to ash produced during combustion of coal...

  • Kaolinite
    Kaolinite is a clay mineral, part of the group of industrial minerals, with the chemical composition Al2Si2O54. It is a layered silicate mineral, with one tetrahedral sheet linked through oxygen atoms to one octahedral sheet of alumina octahedra...

  • Pozzolan
    A pozzolan is a material which, when combined with calcium hydroxide, exhibits cementitious properties. Pozzolans are commonly used as an addition to Portland cement concrete mixtures to increase the long-term strength and other material properties of Portland cement concrete, and in some cases...

  • Rice husk ash
  • Metakaolin
    Metakaolin is a dehydroxylated form of the clay mineral kaolinite.Rocks that are rich in kaolinite are known as china clay or kaolin, traditionally used in the manufacture of porcelain. The particle size of metakaolin is smaller than cement particles, but not as fine as silica fume.-Forming...

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