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Polypropylene fibers in concrete

What do the tests tell us?



n the past several years, an increasing number of contractors have placed concrete containing polypropylene fibers. Fiber manufacturers have promoted the material as a practical alternative to the use of welded wire fabric for control of shrinkage and t e m p e ra t u re cracking. They cite the ease with which fibers can be added to concrete and also state that adding fibers reduces shrinkage, inhibits shrinkage cracking, reduces permeability and improves impact and abrasion resistance. There is, howe ve r, conflicting data concerning the effects of polypropylene fibers on the properties of concrete. This article reviews some of the suggested applications for concrete reinforced with fibers and surveys recent studies concerning properties of the fiber- re i nforced concrete. We limited our survey to data obtained from tests on concretes containing either 1.5 or 1.6 pounds of collated fibrillated polypropylene fiber per cubic yard of concrete. These are dosage rates recommended by the two major polypropylene fiber manufact u re r s. Results of the testing are fragmentary because there have been a limited number of tests and test conditions investigated. Few of the studies involved field mixing of the concrete containing fibers.

trol shrinkage and temperature cracking. Goals for the engineer and contractor are to reduce the number of cracks and to keep ones that do form from opening up too wide. Adding polypropylene fibers to the concrete has been suggested as one way of achieving these goals. Other suggested applications for concrete containing polypropylene fibers include structures such as median barriers that are subjected to impact loads, placements where all materials must be nonmetallic and areas requiring materials that are resistant to alkalis and other chemicals.


When fibers are added to the concrete slump will decrease (1, 2, 3, 4).* According to one fiber manufacturers representative, the reduction in slump depends on the length of fiber used; longer fibers cause a greater slump reduction. Data from recent laboratory and field tests indicate slump losses ranging from 12 inch to slightly over 3 inches, but there is little correlation between slump reduction and fiber length (Table 1). Contractors are cautioned not to add water to restore lost slump. Even at the lower slump, workability of fiber reinforced concrete is said to be adequate for placing, compacting and finishing the concrete. Adding water


An unrestrained concrete member will shorten in all directions when it dries or cools. But because most concrete structural members are at least partially restrained, tensile stresses build up when the concrete dries or cools. The stresses are about the same as those that would occur if the concrete had been allowed to contract freely and had then been pulled back to its original length. When these stresses exceed the tensile strength of the concrete, the member cracks. Measures that can be taken to control this cracking include reducing the potential shrinkage of the concrete, providing joints to control crack location and adding nonstructural reinforcement. Even if joints are used to control crack location, cracks may still occur between joints. And in structural reinforced concrete, added measures may be needed to con-


Initial Slump (inches) 312 514 6 4

Final Slump (inches) 3 234 4 4


Fiber Length (inches) 2 2 1 2


Reference (see end of article) 2 2 3 4 4 6

5 4.9 412

1.9 2.1 212

2 2


Plain Concrete Strength (psi) 5630 4880 7290 2810 4750 5700 5700 4250 5930 5840* Fiber-reinf. Concrete Strength (psi) 6470 5370 7230 2690 4880 5850 5270 4630 6260 6480* Fiber Length (inches) Reference (see end of article)

Plastic shrinkage cracking

A test similar to one described in CONCRETE CONSTRUCTION (September 1985, page 775) was used to compare early cracking behavior of slabs made with plain concrete, concrete reinforced with welded-wire fabric and concrete containing polypropylene fibers (6). Cement content of the concrete was 494 pounds per cubic yard at a water-cement ratio of 0.61 and with a 1-inch maximum size aggregate. Slabs were 2 feet wide, 3 feet long and 2 inches thick. Edges of the concrete were restrained and surfaces of the freshly placed concrete were immediately exposed under rapid drying conditions. Fibers significantly reduced cracking potential as determined from a weighted average value that took into account crack length and width. Using a different test method than the one described above, a Norwegian researcher (3) exposed fiber- re i nforced and plain concrete and mortar samples to severe drying conditions shortly after casting. Doughnutshaped concrete specimens were cast with a steel ring in the center. The steel ring restrained shrinkage, causing the specimens to crack as they dried. The researcher concluded that even modest additions of polypropylene fibers resulted in a considerable reduction of the sensitivity of concrete and mortar to plastic shrinkage cracks caused by early drying.

2 2 112 2 2 3 4 1 214 2 2

2 2 3 4 4 8 8 9 10 10

* These specimens cured 3 days wet and 25 days dry before testing.

wont improve workability but will reduce strength and increase shrinkage. In some cases, such as for slipformed median barriers, use of a more cohesive concrete with a lower slump may actually be beneficial. Edges of the in-place concrete are less likely to crumble and fall away, and the barrier itself wont subside as much before setting occurs. One researcher (5) suggests that polypropylene fibers might act as dampers or energy absorbers during the concrete compaction process. He recommends periodic density checks on the compacted concrete to detect poor compaction that might cause increases in porosity and poor performance. Data from three studies (2, 3, 4) show that the fibers had little or no effect on unit weight of the concrete. Howe ve r, unit weight wasnt measured on the in-place concrete.


Data reported here are generally for concretes containing the manufacturers recommended fiber dosage amounts, either 1.5 or 1.6 pounds of fiber per cubic yard of concrete. This represents a volume concentration of approximately 0.1 percent.

Drying shrinkage
There have been conflicting reports concerning the effect of polypropylene fibers on shrinkage that occurs after concrete has hardened. A pilot study reported in 1982 (7) indicated that polypropylene fibers reduced shrinkage of plain concrete specimens by about 75 percent. Howe ve r, more recent test results dont agree with these findings. One researcher (2) concluded that the total shrinkage for concrete containing polypropylene fibers is approximately equal to shrinkage of concrete without the fibers. Another researcher (4) found that fiber concrete shrinks less than plain concrete but that the difference in shrinkage is small. Shrinkage of 3000 psi concrete with fibers was 6.8 percent less than that of plain concrete, and shrinkage of 4500 psi concrete with fibers was 4.9 percent less than that of plain concrete. Different mix pro p o rt i o n s, specimen sizes, drying conditions and testing procedures were used by the researchers in the studies mentioned above. And conclusions were based upon testing of a limited number of specimens. A soon-to-be-published study (8), based on a larger number of tests, concludes that polypropylene fibers reduce plastic and drying shrinkage when added


Plain Concrete Strength 680 680 530 815 865 865 570 750 730* Fiber-reinf. Concrete Strength 700 725 555 800 870 890 665 755 760* Fiber Length (inches) 2 2 2 2 3 4 1 214 2 2 Reference (see end of article) 2 2 4 4 8 8 9 10 10

* These specimens cured 3 days wet and 25 days dry before testing.

at the manufacturers recommended dosage rates. Concretes containing fibers consistently exhibited less shrinkage than plain concrete. But no conclusions were made regarding actual percentage differences found as a function of the amount or type of fiber used. The researcher stated that because of scatter in individual test data, shrinkage testing requires a large number of test specimens in order to interpret trends.

of Engineers method CRD-C 52) was modified by using a 20-pound load instead of a 10-pound load and an abrasion time of 6 minutes instead of 2 minutes. Polypropylene fibers significantly increased flexural fatigue resistance of plain concrete in one study (2). Specimens were subjected to repetitive loads at about 60 percent of the modulus of rupture. Concrete with fibers withstood over twice as many cycles as plain concrete.

Compressive, flexural and tensile strength

Co m p re s s i ve strength comparisons between plain concrete and concrete with fibers were made in seve ra l recent studies (2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10). Results are summari ze d in Table 2. Some researchers have concluded that there are no significant compressive strength differences between mixes with and without polypropylene fibers. Others have found a modest increase in compressive strength when fibers are added. Results of tests made on beams tested in flexure are summarized in Table 3. These tests (2, 4, 8, 9, 10) show either no effect of fibers on flexural strength or a small increase in modulus of rupture. Direct and indirect tensile testing of concrete has indicated little improvement in tensile strength when fibers are added (2, 4). It should again be noted that most of the results in Tables 2 and 3 are based upon a limited number of tests.

Conclusions here are based primarily upon laboratory studies of concretes containing about 0.1 percent by volume of polypropylene fibers. This dosage corresponds with the manufacturers recommended dosages of 1.5 or 1.6 pounds of fiber per cubic yard of concrete. Data on concretes containing higher volume percentages of fiber we re nt reviewed. Evaluations of data giving conflicting results are complicated by the fact that many of the testing methods used by different investigators havent been standardized. This and the limited number of tests conducted in several of the studies make many of the conclusions tentative at best. Adding fibers reduces the slump of concrete. There appears to be less plastic shrinkage and less plastic shrinkage cracking when concrete contains polypropylene fibers. Drying shrinkage after hardening is reduced when fibers are added to concrete but the amount of the reduction is difficult to predict using current testing methods. Some increase in compressive and flexural strength is possible when fibers are added to concrete and an increase in fatigue resistance has been noted by one researcher. Results of two abrasion resistance studies are contradictory and there arent enough test results to permit drawing a conclusion. There is also insufficient data concerning impact resistance. If the effects of polypropylene fibers on concrete properties are to be conclusively demonstrated by laboratory tests, more data are needed. Field observations of inplace concrete are perhaps a better indicator of p e rf o rmance at this time than are the results of laboratory tests. Another article in this issue gives some examples of field performance.

Impact, abrasion and fatigue resistance

In two studies (2, 7), impact tests have been conducted on concrete made with polypropylene fibers. In one of the studies, significantly improved resistance to impact was observed in one test but a second test showed little improvement in impact resistance. The researcher attributed this variability to nonuniform fiber distribution (2). In the other impact resistance study, variability in the test results was large and the researcher expressed uncertainty about the individual test results as well as the test itself (7). In one study (11), concrete containing polypropylene fibers demonstrated an ability to sustain large deformations without shattering. Two specimens 21 inches high with a 6x6-inch cross-section were tested in compression. One contained polypropylene fibers (1.5 pounds per cubic yard) and the other was made with plain conc re t e. Both were loaded at a deformation rate of 0.025 inch per minute and the maximum load carried by each was approximately the same. Howe ve r, the plain concrete specimen fractured completely after shortening 0.32 inch while the fiber concrete shortened 2.00 inches without breaking apart completely. There isnt much reported data concerning abrasion resistance of polypropylene fiber concrete. One study (2) indicated very little difference in abrasion resistance between plain concrete and concrete containing polypropylene fibers. Details of the testing method were not given. Another study (12) indicated improved abrasion resistance when polypropylene fibers were added to the concrete. A rotating cutter method (U.S. Army Corps

References 1. Guirguis, B. E. and Potter, R. J., Polypropylene Fibres in Concrete, Technical Report TR/F90, Cement and Concrete Association of Australia, 1985

2. Aitcin, Pierre-Claude et al, The Use of Fibre Reinforced Concrete for Highway Rehabilitation, Etude #231, IGM85305-231, Industrial Materials Research Institute, National Research Council of Canada, 1985 3. Dahl, P. A., Plastic Shrinkage and Cracking Tendency of Mortar and Concrete Containing Fibermesh, FCB Cement and Concrete Research Institute, Norway, 1985 4. Litvin, A., Report to Wire Reinforcement Institute on Properties of Concrete Containing Polypropylene Fibers, Construction Technology Laboratories, Portland Cement Association, 1985 5. Hannant, D. J., Polypropylene Fibres in Concrete, Mortar, and Cement, Chapter 7 in Fibre Cements and Fibre Concretes, John Wiley & Sons, 1978, page 96 6. Kraai, P. P., Crack Control Methods: Welded Wire Fabric vs. CFP Fibers, for Fibermesh Company, 1985 7. Zollo, R. F., Collated Fibrillated Polypropylene Fibers in FRC, Fiber Reinforced Concrete: International Symposium, SP 81, American Concrete Institute, 1984, page 397

8. Zollo, R. F. et al, Plastic and Drying Shrinkage in Concrete Containing Collated Fibrillated Polypropylene Fibers, to be published in 1986 9. Hanna, A. N., Preliminary Evaluation of Forta Fibre Reinforced Concrete, performed for Forta Corporation by Construction Technology Laboratories, Portland Cement Association, 1981 10. Static Load Test of Fibermesh vs. Welded Wire Fabric, F.E.D. Report No. 5, Fibermesh Inc. (Tests performed by Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.), 1985 11. Concrete Shatter Resistance Under Compressive Loading of Fibermesh vs. Plain, F.E.D. Report No. 6, Fibermesh Inc. (Tests performed by Paul P. Kraai), 1985 12. Kraai, P. P Abrasion Testing of Fibermesh Concrete, ., for Fibermesh Company, 1984

Copyright 1986, The Aberdeen Group All rights reserved