Self-healing mortar with pH-sensitive superabsorbent polymers: Testing of the sealing efficiency by water flow tests

Elke Gruyaert, Brenda Debbaut, Didier Snoeck, Pilar Díaz, Alejandro Arizo, Eirini Tziviloglou, Erik Schlangen, Nele De Belie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

73 Citations (Scopus)


Superabsorbent polymers (SAPs) have potential to be used as healing agent in self-healing concrete due to their property to attract moisture from the environment and their capacity to promote autogenous healing. A possible drawback, however, is their uptake of mixing water during concrete manufacturing, resulting in an increased volume of macro-pores in the hardened concrete. To limit this drawback, newly developed SAPs with a high swelling and pH-sensitiveness were developed and tested within the FP7 project HEALCON. Evaluation of their self-sealing performance occurred through a water permeability test via water flow, a test method also developed within HEALCON. Three different sizes of the newly developed SAP were compared with a commercial SAP. Swelling tests in cement filtrate solution indicated that the commercial and in-house synthesized SAPs performed quite similar, but the difference between the swelling capacity at pH 9 and pH 13 is more pronounced for the self-synthesized SAPs. Moreover, in comparison to the commercial SAPs, less macro-pores are formed in the cement matrix of mixes with self-synthesized SAPs and the effect on the mechanical properties is lower, but not negligible, when using high amounts of SAPs. Although the immediate sealing effect of cracks in mortar was the highest for the commercial SAPs, the in-house made SAPs with a particle size between 400 and 600 μm performed the best with regard to crack closure (mainly CaCO3 precipitation) and self-sealing efficiency, after exposing the specimens to 28 wet-dry cycles. Some specimens could even withstand a water pressure of 2 bar.

Original languageEnglish
Article number084007
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalSmart Materials and Structures
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2016


  • concrete
  • permeability
  • self-healing
  • superabsorbent polymers


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