Development and application of a novel test method for studying the fire behaviour of CFRP prestressed concrete structural elements
A novel type of precast, prestressed concrete structural element is being implemented in load-bearing systems in buildings. These structural elements combine the use of high-performance, self-consolidating concrete (HPSCC) and non-corroding carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) prestressing tendons; this produces highly optimized, slender structural elements with excellent serviceability and (presumed) extended service lives. More widely, the use of new construction techniques, innovative materials, and ground-breaking designs is increasingly commonplace in today’s rapidly evolving building construction industry. However, the performance of these and other structural elements in fire is in general not well known and must be understood before these can be used with confidence in load-bearing applications where structural fire resistance is a concern. Structural fire testing has traditionally relied on the use of the standard fire resistance test (i.e. furnace test) for assuring regulatory compliance of structural elements and assemblies, and in many cases also for developing the scientific understanding of structural response to fire. Conceived in the early 1900s and fundamentally unchanged since then, the standard testing procedure is characterized by its high cost and low repeatability. A novel test method, the Heat-Transfer Rate Inducing System (H-TRIS), resulting from a mental shift associated with controlling the thermal exposure not by temperature (e.g. temperature measured by thermocouples) but rather by the time-history of incident heat flux, was conceived, developed, and validated within the scope of the work presented in this thesis. H-TRIS allows for experimental studies to be carried out with high repeatability, imposing rationally quantifiable thermal exposure, all at low economic and temporal cost. The research presented in this thesis fundamentally seeks to examine and understand the behaviour of CFRP prestressed HPSCC structural elements in fire, with emphasis placed on undesired ‘premature’ failure mechanisms linked to the occurrence of heat-induced concrete spalling and/or loss of bond between the pretensioned CFRP tendons and the concrete. Results from fire resistance tests presented herein show that, although compliant with testing standards, temperature distributions inside furnaces (5 to 10% deviation) appear to influence the occurrence of heat-induced concrete spalling for specimens tested simultaneously during a single test; fair comparison of test results is therefore questionable if thermal exposure variability is not explicitly considered. In line with the aims of the research presented in this thesis, H-TRIS is used to carry out multiple comprehensive studies on the occurrence of concrete spalling and bond behaviour of CFRP tendons; imposing a quantified, reproducible and rational thermal exposure. Test results led to the conclusion that a “one size fits all” approach for mitigating the risk of heat-induced concrete spalling (e.g. prescribed dose of polypropylene (PP) fibres included in fresh concrete), appears to be ineffective and inappropriate in some of the conditions examined. This work demonstrates that PP fibre cross section and individual fibre length can have an influence on the risk of spalling for the HPSCC mixes tested herein. The testing presented herein has convincingly shown, for the first time using multiple repeated tests under tightly controlled thermal and mechanical conditions, that spalling depends not only on the thermal gradients in concrete during heating but also on the size and restraint conditions of the tested specimen. Furthermore, observations from large scale standard fire resistance tests showed that loss of bond strength of pretensioned CFRP tendons occurred at a ‘critical’ temperature of the tendons in the heated region, irrespective of the temperature of the tendons at the prestress transfer length, in unheated overhangs. This contradicts conventional wisdom for the structural fire safety design of concrete elements pretensioned with CFRP, in which a minimum unheated overhang is generally prescribed. Overall, the research studies presented in this thesis showed that a rational and practical understanding of the behaviour of CFRP prestressed HPSCC structural elements during real fires is unlikely to be achieved only by performing additional standard fire resistance tests. Hence, H-TRIS presents an opportunity to help promote an industry-wide move away from the contemporary pass/fail and costly furnace testing environment. Recommendations for further research to achieve the above goal are provided.