Unbonded post-tensioned concrete structures in fire
Gales, John Adam Brian
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To achieve thinner and longer floor slabs, rapid construction, and tight control of inservice deflections, modern concrete structures increasingly use high-strength, posttensioned prestressing steel as reinforcement. The resulting structures are called posttensioned (PT) concrete. Post-tensioned concrete slabs are widely believed to benefit from ‘inherent fire endurance.’ This belief is based largely on results from a series of standard fire tests performed on simply-supported specimens some five decades ago. Such tests are of debatable credibility; they do not capture the true structural behaviour of real buildings in real fires, nor do they reflect modern PT concrete construction materials or optimization methods. This thesis seeks to develop a more complete understanding of the structural and thermal response of modern prestressing steel and PT concrete slabs, particularly those with unbonded prestressing steel conditions, to high temperature, in an effort to steer current practice and future research towards the development of defensible, performance-based, safe fire designs. An exhaustive literature review of previous experimentation and real case studies of fire exposed PT concrete structures is presented to address whether current code guidance is adequate. Both bonded and unbonded prestressing steel configurations are considered, and research needs are identified. For unbonded prestressing steel in a localised fire, the review shows that the interaction between thermal relaxation and plastic deformation could result in tendon failure and loss of tensile reinforcement to the concrete, earlier than predicted by available design guidance. Since prestressing steel runs continuously in unbonded PT slabs, local damage to prestressing steel will affect the integrity of adjacent bays in a building. In the event that no bonded steel reinforcement is provided (as permitted by some design codes) a PT slab could lose tensile reinforcement across multiple bays; even those remote from fire. Using existing literature and design guidance, preliminary simplified modelling is presented to illustrate the stress-temperature-time interactions for stressed, unbonded prestressing steel under localised heating. This exercise showed that the observed behaviour cannot be rationally described by the existing design guidance. The high temperature mechanical properties of modern prestressing steel are subsequently considered in detail, both experimentally and analytically. Tests are presented on prestressing steel specimens under constant axial stress at high temperature using a high resolution digital image correlation (DIC) technique to accurately measure deformations. A novel, accurate analytical model of the stresstemperature- time dependent deformation of prestressing steel is developed and validated for both transient and steady-state conditions. Modern prestressing steel behaviour is then compared to its historical prestressing steel counterparts, showing significant differences at high temperature. Attention then turns to other structural actions of a real PT concrete structure (e.g. thermal bowing, restraint, concrete stiffness loss, continuity, spalling, slab splitting etc.) all of which also play inter-related roles influencing a PT slab’s response in fire. A series of three non-standard structural fire experiments on heavily instrumented, continuous, restrained PT concrete slabs under representative sustained service loads were conducted in an effort to better understand the response of PT concrete structures to localised heating. To the author’s knowledge this is the first time a continuous PT slab which includes axial, vertical and rotational restraint has been studied at high temperature, particularly under localised heating. The structural response of all three tests indicates a complex deflection trend in heating and in cooling which differs considerably from the response of a simply supported slab in a standard fire test. Deflection trends in the continuous slab tests were due to a combination of thermal expansion and plastic damage. The test data will enable future efforts to validate computational models which account for the requisite complexities. Overall, the research presented herein shows that some of the design guidance for modern PT concrete slabs is inadequate and should be updated. The high temperature deformation of prestressing steel under localised heating, as would be expected in a real fire, should be considered, since uniform heating of simplysupported elements is both unrealistic and unconservative with respect to tensile rupture of prestressing steel tendons. The most obvious impact of this finding would be to increase the minimum concrete covers required for unbonded PT construction, and to require adequate amounts of bonded steel reinforcement to allow load shedding to the bonded steel at high temperature in the event that the prestressing steel fails or is severely damaged by fire.