Concrete created for cold-weather building projects

Chemical added to help speed up hardening process

Posted: Thursday, February 15, 2007

A cold-weather concrete invented for the military could help construction companies in Juneau lengthen their work seasons.

"Me personally, I was very curious about it," said John Young, a plan reviewer with the city. He attended a demonstration last week on how cold-weather concrete can be created using materials already commercially available and approved.

The demonstration was the first of its kind in Alaska. It was organized by SpringBoard, a Juneau Economic Development Council program aimed at bringing military technology into Alaska's commercial sector.

Private consultant Charles Korhonen of Michigan led research on the technology, conducted primarily in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory.

At cold temperatures, concrete becomes brittle and the hardening process slows down. Often heating structures have to be built at construction sites for winter work involving concrete.

"(Pouring concrete) is a chemical process. Like all chemical processes, they like to be warm. Unfortunately, when you are out in the environment you can't always keep it warm," Korhonen said.

"What we are doing with this process is to add into the concrete what amounts to an anti-freeze," he said.

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Another additive is a chemical "accelerator," which causes the hardening process to quicken.

So far, the technology has been used on a handful of projects around the country, including sidewalks and roads in Wisconsin and New Hampshire.

The mixture can cost twice as much as typical concrete.

Although the materials are expensive, savings can be realized by not having to build tents for heating, which can amount to one-third of a project's cost, Korhonen said.

The mixture also would alleviate the need to use a heating source. It is estimated $1 billion annually is spent in the United States on energy to heat concrete-pours.

Korhonen said the technology must overcome two hurdles: acceptance by city and state officials and the learning curve potential producers face.

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"Nothing prevents them from doing it if they wanted to do it themselves," he said. "It is the education process. It is really quite simple."

"I think it has much potential for our climate," said Dave Hanna, the owner of Alaska Concrete Casting, where the demonstration took place last week.

Will he use it?

"The irony of it: I probably won't use this that much. I am a pre-cast concrete facility."

If the mixing materials become cheaper, he said he could envision pouring the cold-weather concrete at his facility and using his outside space as storage.

"Right now, there is potential for this to be used out at the airport," he said. "Concrete has to be poured out at March for the expansion."

Two more demonstrations in Alaska are slated for March, one in Anchorage, the other in Fairbanks. For details of these demonstrations, call Adam Fisher of SpringBoard at 723-0101.

• Brittany Retherford can be reached at

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