Using Molecular Dynamics and Peridynamics Simulations to Better Understand Geopolymer
AuthorSadat, Mohammad Rafat
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractGeopolymer is a novel cementitious material which can be a potential alternative to ordinary Portland cement (OPC) for all practical applications. However, until now research on this revolutionary material is limited mainly to experimental studies, which have the limitations in considering the details of the atomic- and meso-scale structure and atomic scale mechanisms that govern the properties at the macro-scale. Most experimental studies on geopolymer have been conducted focusing only on the macroscopic properties and considering it as a single-phase material. However, research has shown that geopolymer is a composite material consisting of geopolymer binder (GB), unreacted source material, and, in the presence of Ca in the source material, calcium silicate hydrate (CSH). Therefore, in this research, a multiscale/multiphysics modeling approach has been taken to understand geopolymer structure and mechanical properties under varying conditions and at different length scales. First, GB was prepared at the atomic scale using molecular dynamics (MD) simulations with varying Si/Al ratios and water contents within the nano voids. The MD simulated geopolymer structure was validated based on comparison with experiments using X-ray pair distribution function (PDF), infra-red (IR) spectra, coordination of atoms, and density. The results indicate that the highest strength occurs at a Si/Al ratio of 2-3 and the presence of molecular water negatively affects the mechanical properties of GB. The loss of strength for GB with increased water content is linked to the diffusion of Na atoms and subsequent weakening of Al tetrahedra. The GB was also subjected to nanoindentation using MD and the effect of indenter size and loading rate was investigated at an atomic scale. A clear correlation between the indenter size and observed hardness of GB was observed which proves indentation size effects (ISE). Realizing the composite nature of geopolymer, the presence of unreacted and secondary phases such as quartz and CSH in geopolymer was also investigated. To do that, the mechanical properties of GB, the secondary phases and their interfaces was first determined from MD simulations. Using the MD generated properties, a meso-scale model of geopolymer composite was prepared in Peridynamics (PD) framework which considered large particles of GB and secondary phases of nanometers in size which cannot be easily modeled in MD. The meso-scale model provides a larger platform to study geopolymer in the presence of large nano-voids and multiple phases. Results from the PD simulations were directly comparable to experimentally observed mechanical properties. Findings of this study can be directly used in future to construct more advanced and sophisticated models of geopolymer and will be instrumental in designing the synthesis condition for geopolymer with superior mechanical properties.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics