How much silica fume should be added to cement?

How much silica fume should be added to cement?

Hope 2024-06-06 14:17:21

Silica fume, also known as micro-silica or condensed silica fume, is a byproduct of the silicon metal or ferrosilicon alloy production industry. It is a fine, gray, powdery material composed of spherical particles with an average diameter of 0.1 to 0.5 microns. Silica fume is considered a supplementary cementitious material (SCM) and is widely used in the production of high-performance concrete due to its unique properties and ability to enhance the performance of cement-based materials.

The Composition and Properties of Silica Fume

Silica fume is primarily composed of amorphous (non-crystalline) silicon dioxide (SiO2), typically ranging from 85% to 98% by weight. The remaining composition includes small amounts of aluminum oxide (Al2O3), iron oxide (Fe2O3), and other trace elements. The high silica content and the extremely fine particle size of silica fume make it a highly reactive pozzolanic material.

The key properties of silica fume that contribute to its effectiveness in cement-based materials include:

  • Pozzolanic Reactivity: Silica fume is a highly reactive pozzolanic material, meaning it can react with the calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2) produced during the hydration of Portland cement to form additional calcium silicate hydrate (C-S-H) gel. This pozzolanic reaction improves the strength and durability of the concrete.
  • Particle Size and Surface Area: Silica fume has a very fine particle size, with an average diameter of 0.1 to 0.5 microns, and a high specific surface area (typically 15,000 to 30,000 m2/kg). This fine particle size and high surface area contribute to the enhanced pozzolanic reaction and the ability to fill the voids between cement particles, resulting in a denser and more impermeable concrete matrix.
  • Microstructure Refinement: The addition of silica fume to concrete refines the microstructure by reducing the size and improving the distribution of the hydration products, particularly the C-S-H gel. This refinement leads to a denser and more homogeneous concrete matrix, which enhances compressive strength, durability, and resistance to various forms of deterioration.

The Role of Silica Fume in Cement Mixtures

Silica fume is commonly used in cement-based materials, such as concrete and mortar, to enhance their performance in various aspects:

  1. Compressive Strength: The pozzolanic reaction between silica fume and calcium hydroxide results in the formation of additional C-S-H gel, which increases the overall strength of the concrete. The typical compressive strength increase with the addition of silica fume can range from 10% to 50%, depending on the replacement level and other mix design factors.
  2. Durability: Silica fume improves the durability of concrete by reducing its permeability, which in turn enhances resistance to water and chemical penetration. This improved impermeability leads to better protection against various forms of deterioration, such as sulfate attack, chloride-induced corrosion, and freeze-thaw cycles.
  3. Abrasion Resistance: The dense and homogeneous microstructure created by the addition of silica fume improves the abrasion resistance of concrete, making it more suitable for applications where high wear resistance is required, such as industrial floors, bridge decks, and airport pavements.
  4. Alkali-Silica Reaction (ASR) Mitigation: Silica fume can help mitigate the risk of alkali-silica reaction (ASR) in concrete by reducing the permeability and limiting the transport of harmful alkali ions and reactive silica within the concrete matrix.
  5. Early Strength Development: The pozzolanic reaction of silica fume can contribute to the early strength development of concrete, especially during the first 7 to 28 days of curing. This can be beneficial for applications where early strength is critical, such as precast concrete production and construction projects with tight schedules.

Determining the Optimal Dosage of Silica Fume

The appropriate dosage of silica fume to be added to a cement mixture depends on several factors, including the desired performance characteristics, the application, and the specific mix design requirements. Generally, the replacement level of cement with silica fume can range from 5% to 15% by weight of the total cementitious material.

It is important to note that the optimal dosage of Silica fume should be determined through a series of trial mixes and laboratory tests to ensure that the desired performance criteria are met. Factors such as the specific characteristics of the cement, aggregates, and other admixtures used in the concrete mix should also be considered when determining the appropriate silica fume dosage.

Handling and Incorporation of Silica Fume

Silica fume is typically added to the concrete mix as a separate, pre-blended ingredient. Due to its extremely fine particle size, silica fume can become airborne during handling, which can pose health and safety concerns. Proper handling and incorporation techniques are crucial to ensure the safe and effective use of silica fume in cement-based materials.

When incorporating silica fume into the concrete mix, it is essential to follow these best practices:

  1. Proper Storage and Handling: Silica fume should be stored in a dry, sealed, and well-ventilated environment to prevent moisture absorption and dust generation. Workers handling silica fume should wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as respirators, to minimize exposure to dust.
  2. Batching and Mixing: Silica fume should be added to the concrete mix after the cement and other dry ingredients have been thoroughly mixed. This ensures a homogeneous distribution of the silica fume throughout the mix.
  3. Adequate Mixing Time: Proper mixing time is crucial to ensure the complete dispersion and incorporation of silica fume into the concrete matrix. Longer mixing times, typically between 5 to 10 minutes, are recommended when using silica fume to achieve the desired homogeneity and performance characteristics.
  4. Superplasticizer Incorporation: Due to the high surface area of silica fume, the use of a compatible superplasticizer is often required to maintain the desired workability and flow properties of the concrete mix.

By following these handling and incorporation best practices, contractors and ready-mix concrete producers can ensure the effective and safe use of silica fume in cement-based materials, leading to the desired performance improvements.


Silica fume is a valuable supplementary cementitious material that can significantly enhance the performance of cement-based materials, particularly in the production of high-performance concrete. Its unique properties, including high pozzolanic reactivity, fine particle size, and ability to refine the concrete microstructure, contribute to improvements in compressive strength.

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