U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590

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Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

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Concrete Laboratory


Overview: Researchers in the Concrete Laboratory investigate concrete component materials used for highways including cement, aggregate, supplementary and alternative cementitious materials, and admixtures. Investigators assess durability aspects of concrete, develop and evaluate new test methods or enhance existing testing procedures, as well as performing forensic investigations requested within the Agency, by State departments of transportation (DOTs), and other governmental agencies.

Laboratory Description and Capabilities:The Concrete Laboratory batches, mixes, and conducts tests on cementitious paste, mortar, and concrete. The Laboratory is equipped with facilities for evaluating plastic and hardened concrete properties (e.g., rheological properties, setting, and calorimetry); concrete volume changes; concrete durability including freezing and thawing, permeability, ions penetrability, and alkali-aggregate reaction; and mechanical properties, including strength, modulus of elasticity

Laboratory Equipment: Concrete, mortar, and paste mixers of various sizes and types are available in the Concrete Laboratory, including a high-shear paste mixer and a high-intensity concrete mixer (figure 1).

The image shows a high-intensity concrete mixer, which has a metal mixing unit attached to an arm that can be lowered into a metal bowl where the concrete is mixed.

Figure 1. Photograph. High-Intensity Concrete Mixer.

Early-age evaluation capabilities include monitoring the hydration reactions over time using Isothermal Calorimeter (figure 2) or semiadiabatic calorimeter and through pore solution extraction. Workability is assessed with a flow table, a Vebe Consistometer, and a Dynamic Shear Rheometer (figure 3). Super Air Meter (SAM) is used to measure air-void system of fresh concrete.

The image shows an isothermal calorimeter with sixteen channels and four glass ampoules.  Eight of the channels are used for the reference materials and the other eight are used for the materials under study.  Isothermal calorimeter is a versatile tool for monitoring the hydration of cementitious materials at the early age.

Figure 2. Photograph. Isothermal Calorimeter.
  The image shows a dynamic shear rheometer with parallel plates system.  The cement paste is sandwiched between the two parallel plates and then the shear stress and strain are measured as the upper plate is oscillated.

Figure 3. Photograph. Dynamic Shear Rheometer.

The curing room contains three temperature-controlled curing tanks and a walk-in environmental chamber.  Here concrete specimens are cured under standard or other controlled conditions, and are used to assess curing-related properties, such as degree of hydration, maturity, and shrinkage (free, autogenous, chemical, and restrained).

The Concrete Laboratory includes facilities for investigating the effects of chemical and environmental exposure on concrete, such as automated freeze-thaw chambers (figure 4) with the capacity for 17 specimens, computer-controlled chloride penetration test equipment, and a surface resistivity apparatus (figure 5). The thermal effects are evaluated using coefficient of thermal expansion test frames (developed in-house and obtained commercially). The Concrete Laboratory is also involved in assessing other distress mechanisms such as alkali-aggregate reaction and sulfate attack.

This image shows a freeze-thaw chamber with sixteen 3-inch by 4-inch by 16-inch concrete prism specimens.

Figure 4. Photograph.
Freeze-Thaw Chamber.
  This image shows a research engineer in a laboratory. The engineer is reading the electrical resistance of a concrete cylinder by using a four-point Wenner probe.

Figure 5. Photograph.
Surface Resistivity Apparatus.

Aggregate used for concrete can now be characterized by their shape, angularity, and texture using the Aggregate Image Measurement System (AIMS).

Facilities are also available for testing the mechanical properties of concrete and composites. The mechanical properties are measured with a universal testing machine capableof 4,500 kilonewtons (1,000,000 pound-force) and a 2,225 kilonewton (500,000 pound-force), a beam tester with a capacity of 130 kilonewtons (30,000 pound-force), a compressometer/extensometer, and four creep frames.

The Concrete Laboratory is inspected by the Cement and Concrete Reference Laboratory (CCRL) and accredited by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Materials Reference Laboratory.


Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000
Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center | 6300 Georgetown Pike | McLean, VA | 22101