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Acid Attack

Concretes made of Portland cement (OPC) are highly alkaline
with pH values normally above 12.5 and are not easily attacked
by acidic solutions.
As the pH of the solution decreases the equilibrium in the
cement matrix is being disturbed, and the hydrated cement
compounds are essentially altered by hydrolytic decomposition
which leads to the severe degradation of the technical properties
of the material.
At pH values lower than 12.5 portlandite is the first constituent
starting dissolution.
If pH decreases to values lower than stability limits of cement
hydrates, then the corresponding hydrate loses calcium and
decomposes to amorphous hydrogel
The final reaction products of acid attack are the corresponding
calcium salts of the acid as well as hydrogels of silicium,
aluminum, and ferric oxides
Acetic acid
Carbolic acid
Carbonic acid
Lactic acid
Phosphoric acid
Tannic acid
Hydrochloric acid
Sulphuric acid
Sulphurous acid
Nitric acid
Hydroflouric acid
Hydrobromic acid
pH Range Effect
12.5 12 Calcium hydroxide and calcium aluminate
hydrate dissolve and ettringite is formed
CSH phase is subjected to cycles of
dissolution and re-precipitation
11.6 10.6 Gypsum is formed
< 10.6 Ettringite is no longer stable and decomposes
into aluminum hydroxide and gypsum
< 8.8 CSH becomes unstable
What is Acid Attack?

Concrete is susceptible to acid attack because of its
alkaline nature. The components of the cement paste
break down during contact with acids.

Most pronounced is the dissolution of calcium hydroxide
which occurs according to the following reaction:

2 HX + Ca(OH)2 -> CaX2 + 2 H2O
(X is the negative ion of the acid)
The decomposition of the concrete depends on the
porosity of the cement paste, on the concentration of
the acid, the solubility of the acid calcium salts (CaX2)
and on the fluid transport through the concrete.

Insoluble calcium salts may precipitate in the voids and
can slow down the attack.

Acids such as nitric acid, hydrochloric acid and acetic
acid are very aggressive as their calcium salts are
readily soluble and removed from the attack front.
Other acids such as phosphoric acid and humic acid
are less harmful as their calcium salt, due to their
low solubility, inhibit the attack by blocking the
pathways within the concrete such as
interconnected cracks, voids and porosity.

Sulphuric acid is very damaging to concrete as it
combines an acid attack and a sulfate attack.

Microscopic appearance An acid attack is diagnosed
primarily by two main features:

Absence of calcium hydroxide in the cement paste
Surface dissolution of cement paste exposing
Aggregates Please to not hesitate to contact CXI
if you have some problems regarding acid attack
or any other deterioration mechanisms.

The Type and Quantity of Acid.
The Velocity of flow of groundwater.
The cement content and the impermeability of concrete.
A pH value of less than 6 indicates presence of acids in
Calcium hydroxide depletion of cement paste.
Crossed polarized light.
Exposed aggregate at concrete surface.
Ordinary polarized light
Exposed aggregate at concrete surface.
Crossed polarized light.

OPC specimens exposed up to 60 days in
10% sulphuric acid