Effect of Cracking on Corrosion of Steel in Concrete
International Journal of Concrete Structures and Materials
Effect of Cracking on Corrosion of Steel in Concrete
Faiz Uddin Ahmed Shaikh 0
0 Department of Civil Engineering, Curtin University , Perth, WA 6102 , Australia
It is generally recognized that cracks provide easy access to ingress of chlorides in concrete and hence, the initiation of corrosion of steel in cracked concrete occurs at early stage. However, wide variety of results on the effect of crack widths on corrosion of steel in concrete are reported in many studies. Apart from crack width, the crack depths, cracking frequency and healing of cracks also influence the corrosion of steel in concrete. This paper presents a comprehensive review and summarised the results on the effect of cracking on corrosion of steel in concrete. The effect of crack widths on the diffusion of chlorides ions and carbon-dioxide is also discussed in this paper. Among all available results, a correlation between the corrosion current and the crack widths up to 0.3 mm can be established, however, no distinct trends are observed beyond that crack width. Conflicting results on the effect of crack widths on chloride ion diffusion are also reported. The longitudinal crack causes more severe corrosion of steel in concrete than transverse cracks of same width. Cracked concrete containing supplementary cementitious materials exhibited superior corrosion resistance than cracked ordinary Portland cement concrete of same width of transverse as well as longitudinal cracks. The same is also true in the case of lower water-binder ratios of cracked concrete. The increase in crack depth increased the chloride diffusion; however, the corrosion test shows an opposite trend. Conflicting results on the effect of crack frequency on corrosion of steel are also reported.
corrosion; crack width; crack depth; crack frequency; chlorides; carbonation
Concrete is the most widely used construction materials in
the world due to its low cost and easy availability of its
ingredients. It also exhibits excellent strength properties in
compression. However, it easily cracks in tension, flexure
and shear as well as due to various environmental factors
such as thermal cracking, shrinkage cracking, freeze–thaw,
etc., during its service life. The formation of cracks
adversely affect its durability properties with most
significant effect on the de-passivation of reinforcing steel in
reinforced concrete (RC), resulting in corrosion of steel. The
presence of cracks shorten the corrosion initiation time of
steel and also accelerates the propagation of corrosion during
service life resulting in significant corrosion induced damage
and loss of sectional and load carrying capacity of RC
structures. The formation of cracks in RC is unavoidable due
to its low tensile strength. The cracks thus form in concrete
varies in widths, numbers, geometry, depths, etc.
. These factors affect the initiation and
propagation of corrosion of steel in RC. Considerable
number of publications reported the research results on the
corrosion of steel in cracked concrete. Most of them studied
the corrosion of steel in concrete with different crack widths,
while others, in few numbers, studied the effects of number
of cracks and their depths on the corrosion of steel in
concrete. Conflicting results on the relationship between the
crack widths and corrosion of steel in concrete are also
reported. In most of the above studies, the corrosion of steel
was considered due to penetration of chloride ions.
However, carbonation also induces corrosion of steel in concrete
and especially in cracked concrete. Very few studies, so far,
are reported on this aspect. While many results on the effect
of cracks on corrosion of steel in concrete are reported,
hardly any paper exists that provides a comprehensive
summary and review of existing available results on steel
corrosion in cracked concrete, the relationship between crack
widths and corrosion, effects of other parameters of crack on
corrosion of steel in concrete in a single report. Therefore,
this paper is prepared to fill this gap in the state of
knowledge on the effects of cracks on corrosion of steel in
2. Effect of Crack Widths
Surface crack width is considered to be the most important
parameter that affects the corrosion of steel in concrete.
Cracks on concrete surface which are perpendicular to the
reinforcing steel known as ‘‘transverse cracks’’ and those
parallel to longitudinal reinforcing bars as known as
‘‘longitudinal cracks’’. Generally, the transverse cracks are most
common in RC. Longitudinal cracks generally form after the
corrosion of steel and are considered more dangerous than
transverse cracks for corrosion as more area of steel is
exposed to the aggressive environment. Another reason is
that longitudinal cracks are the evidence of the critical
development of corrosion on the reinforcing steel. Most of
the published results studied the effects of transverse cracks
of different widths on the corrosion of steel. While it is
generally accepted that appropriate crack width might
accelerate the corrosion initiation, however, there are
conflicting results and debate about the effect of cracks on
(Darwin et al. 1985)
. Table 1 shows the
summary of available results on the corrosion of steel in
cracked concrete with different transverse crack widths. It
can be seen that different researchers used different widths of
cracks, water–cement ratios, concrete types, corrosion
periods as well as different methods of corrosion evaluation.
Therefore, a direct relationship on the effect of widths of
transverse cracks on the corrosion of steel in cracked
concrete based on available data is difficult to establish. Even
with the same researcher no trend on the widths of cracks
with corrosion of steel can also be seen. For example,
Mohammed et al. (2001
a), Sistonen et al. (2007),
et al. (2010)
Schiebl and Raupach (1997)
, etc., did not
noticed any increasing trend of corrosion of steel in concrete
with increase in transverse crack widths. While, others
Otieno et al. (2010)
Sahmaran and Yaman
Montes et al. (2004)
Scott and Alexander (2007)
etc., show such increasing trend. Figures 1 and 2 show the
rate of corrosion of steel in concrete having different widths
of cracks and the mass loss compiled from different studies.
It can also be seen that in a broader scale no relationships
between the crack widths and the corrosion can be
established. However, at smaller crack widths up to 0.3 mm an
increasing trend of corrosion of steel with increase in crack
width can be seen. It can also be seen that the scatter of
results in the range of bigger crack widths, e.g., at 0.5 and
0.7 mm are more pronounced than that in the range of the
smaller crack widths.
3. Effect of Longitudinal Cracks
While transverse cracks are common in RC structures,
longitudinal cracks are also formed due to shrinkage
cracking, plastic settlement of concrete, etc. In terms of a
critical development of corrosion of steel in concrete, the
longitudinal cracks parallel to steel bars are more dangerous
than transverse cracks perpendicular to steel bars because
they provide easy access of chlorides, moisture and oxygen
to a wide area of steel reinforcement and it accelerates the
further development of corrosion. In case of transverse
cracks, however, the cathode area is situated between the
cracks, where moisture and oxygen have to reach the
embedded steel through sound concrete in order to enable
the corrosion process. Therefore, longitudinal cracks can
significantly shorten the service life of concrete structures.
The only reported study on the effect of longitudinal crack
on corrosion of steel in concrete is by
Poursaee and Hansson
where the effect of 0.1 mm wide longitudinal crack
on corrosion of steel bar is evaluated after 128 weeks of
corrosion test. In their study they also evaluated the effects
of supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) by which
concrete was modified by containing slag and fly ash. Their
results are compiled and are shown in Fig. 3. It can be seen
that the corrosion current density of reinforcing steel in
transversely cracked concrete is lower than those in
longitudinally cracked concretes of same width. However, it
should be noted that the clear cover in the case of transverse
crack is three to four times more than the case of longitudinal
crack and this could be the reason for significantly lower
current density in transversely cracked concrete. The
positive influence of thicker concrete cover of same crack width
in reducing the corrosion current density in ordinary
concrete as well as in SCMs modified concretes is also reported
Scott and Alexander (2007)
be seen in Table 1. On the other hand, no significant
improvements due to the effect of SCMs can be observed on
corrosion of steel in longitudinally cracked concrete.
4. Effect of Crack Frequency
Crack frequency is defined as the number of cracks per
specific length. The crack frequency of transverse cracks also
effects the corrosion of steel in concrete. In a study,
evaluated the effect of crack frequency on the
corrosion of steel in concrete containing transverse cracks of
same depths and total crack width of 2.4 mm. Their results
(see Fig. 4) show that the corrosion of steel increases with
increase in crack frequency, except the crack frequency of 20
where self-healing of cracks was observed in that beam
reported by the authors. In a subsequent study, however,
Schiebl and Raupach (1997)
reported a completely different
observation where the increase in crack frequency decreased
the corrosion rate (see Fig. 5). They also observed that by
doubling the crack spacing or in other words by decreasing
the number of cracks into half the corrosion rate is doubled.
They argued that by reducing the crack spacing through
increasing the number of cracks, the size of the cathode areas
between the cracks are decreased, which reduced the
corrosion rate. This hypothesis also found to explain the low
corrosion current of steel embedded in strain hardening
cementitious composites (SHCCs) containing closely spaced
(e.g., in Ahmed and Mihashi 2010)
5. Effect of Crack Depth
In addition to crack width, crack depth is also a key
parameter; especially, under loading the crack depth
increases during all stages in the life of a concrete structure
which strongly affects the chloride ions penetration depth.
However, studies about crack depth affecting the chloride
penetration and subsequent steel corrosion are rarely
available. Moreover, shape of crack depth might also influence
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Fig. 3 Effect of longitudinal cracks on corrosion of steel in
concretes. Data from
Poursaee and Hansson (2008)
the chloride penetration and corrosion of steel as it depends
on the concrete cover. The thicker the concrete cover the
higher the possibility of forming ‘‘V-shape’’ cracks than
‘‘parallel-wall’’ cracks in the case of thin concrete cover
under bending loads. In V-shape cracks the width of crack
towards the reinforcing steel is smaller than at the concrete
surface. In a study, Audenaert et
) evaluated the
effect of different crack depths of 5, 10, 15 and 20 mm on
the penetration of chlorides in concrete with parallel-wall
crack width of 0.2 mm. It was observed that the chloride
penetration depth increased with increase in crack depths
irrespective of immersion periods of cracked specimens in
salt solution. The effect of depths of parallel-wall cracks on
chloride diffusion of concretes with different w/c ratios is
also studied by
Stitmannaithum et al. (2013)
, where increase
in chloride diffusion with increase in crack depth and w/c
ratios is also reported (see Fig. 6). While no corrosion test
results on the effect of widths of parallel-face cracks are
available, it can be argued that in real situation the corrosion
of steel will be less in V-shape cracks. This has been
Scott and Alexander’s (2007)
corrosion current decreased with increase in concrete cover
depth or in other words cracks depth. It should be noted that
in their study cracks in the concrete cover were formed
through three points bending of RC beam specimens, which
supposed to form V-shaped cracks. Therefore, appropriate
experimental set-up is required to interconnect the impact of
crack width, crack frequency and crack depth on chloride
induced corrosion in a simulated marine environment in
future for better understanding of their influence on service
life of RC structures
(Blagojevic et al. 2012)
6. Effects of SCMs
The effects of crack widths on corrosion of steel in SCMs
modified cracked concretes are also evaluated by a number
of researchers and their summarised results are presented in
Fig. 7. It can be seen that the corrosion currents of cracked
SCMs modified concretes are lower than its counterpart
ordinary Portland cement (OPC) concrete for all crack
widths. The better corrosion resistance of cracked SCMs
modified concretes can be attributed to their denser
microstructure and lower porosity than OPC concrete.
Although in the crack area (anode zone) the access of
aggressive substances in both OPC and SCMs modified
concretes is same, the availability of oxygen and moisture in
the cathode region next to the anode region (crack area) (see
Fig. 8) should be much lower in SCMs modified concretes
due to its dense microstructure than in OPC concrete and by
controlling the availability of oxygen and moisture in the
cathode region the corrosion of steel in concrete can be
7. Effect of Crack Width on Carbonation
Induced Corrosion of Steel
While extensive studies on the effect of cracking on
chloride penetration and chloride induced corrosion of steel
in cracked concrete are conducted, relatively very few are
reported on carbonation induced corrosion of steel in
cracked concrete. Carbon-dioxide reduces the pH of the pore
solution in the concrete which destroys passive film on steel
bars and initiate corrosion. Generally, uniform corrosion of
steel bars happens due to carbonation and this type of
corrosion occurs in dry concrete as CO2 can’t diffuse through
the saturated cracks or pores. Contrary to chloride
environment, the effect of crack openings on the diffusion of carbon
dioxide to the steel–concrete interface and subsequent
corrosion of steel in concrete has not been widely studied.
AlAhmad et al. (2009
) reported an investigation on the
influence of crack opening on carbon dioxide penetration in
cracked ring-shaped mortar specimens. They found that the
crack opening significantly affects the ability of carbon
dioxide to diffuse along the crack walls. On the other hand,
Dang et al. (2013)
reported a study on the effects of cracks
on both initiation and propagation of corrosion of re-bar due
to carbonation. Ring shaped mortar specimens reinforced
with 8 mm diameter steel bar were cracked with different
crack widths ranging from 0.12 to 0.6 mm. Then the
specimens were subjected to carbon dioxide environment for
different durations to assess the carbonation profile in cracks
and along the interface between steel and concrete and
corrosion of steel. The authors reported that irrespective of
width of cracks, the carbon dioxide reached the interface
between the steel and the mortar and caused corrosion of
steel in the mortar specimen.
Miyazato and Otsuki (2010)
also studied the effect of crack width of 0.5 mm on
carbonation induced corrosion of steel in concrete with various
w/c ratios of 0.3, 0.5 and 0.7 and reported that the corrosion
of steel increased with increase in w/c ratios.
8. Effect of Crack Widths on Chloride
Availability of chloride ions is one of the important factors
for initiation of corrosion of steel in concrete, because the
availability of certain amount of chlorides above the
threshold content de-passivates the steel in the concrete.
Therefore, the availability of chloride ions above the
threshold limit has a direct relationship with corrosion of
steel in concrete and the presence of cracks thus has obvious
influence on the penetration of chlorides into concrete.
Several researchers studied the permeability of chlorides
through cracked concretes. Like the corrosion, conflicting
results on the effect of crack widths on chloride penetration
are also available. For example,
Aldea et al. (1999)
evaluated the effects of various crack widths ranging from 0.05 to
Fig. 9 Effect of crack widths on chloride ion penetration
(Aldea et al. 1999)
(COD crack widths on the concrete
0.4 mm on the chloride penetration in concrete and reported
an increasing trend of chloride penetration in terms of total
charge passed with increase in crack widths (see Fig. 9). In
Win et al. (2004)
Ismail et al. (2008)
reported increasing trend of chloride ion penetration and
chloride ion diffusion with increase in crack widths as can be
seen in Figs. 10 and 11, respectively.
Ismail et al. (2008)
reported no chloride ion diffusion below the crack widths of
0.03 mm with the ability of self-healing to impede chloride
diffusion at crack width below 0.06 mm.
Djerbi et al. (2008)
also reported increase in chloride diffusion coefficient with
increase in crack widths up to about 0.25 mm (see Fig. 12).
They also observed that chloride ion diffusion is higher in
cracked OPC concrete than that containing silica fume for
each crack width. However,
Rodriguez and Hooton (2003)
Jang et al. (2011)
did not observed any trends of
chloride ion diffusion with different crack widths (see Figs. 13,
14). The chloride ion diffusion was found to be much lower
in the case of cracked concrete containing slag for all
measured crack widths in Rodriguez and Hooton’s study with
almost same chloride diffusion for all crack widths up to
0.6 mm (see Fig. 13b).
Fig. 12 Chloride ion diffusion in cracked OPC concrete, HPC
concrete and that containing silica fume
(Djerbi et al.
9. Effect of Cracking on Oxygen Permeability of Concrete
In addition to the presence of chlorides, CO2 and moisture
oxygen is also essential for the formation of corrosion
products through reaction of free Fe2? in anodic region with
the hydroxyl ions (OH–) in cathodic region. Therefore
oxygen permeability of cracked concrete will also be useful to
control the corrosion of steel in concrete as dense uncracked
concrete cover generally reduced the availability of oxygen
on steel surface
(Mohammed et al. 2003)
and a slower
cathodic reaction is expected for the regions with low oxygen
availability. In a limited number of studies the oxygen
permeability of cracked concrete and cementitious composites is
Mohammed et al. (2001
a, b) studied the oxygen
permeability of cracked concrete beams containing plain steel
bar and deformed steel bar. Both beams were subjected to
same load to create flexural cracks on the tension side of the
beams. Results show higher oxygen permeability in the
cracked beam reinforced with deformed bar than its
counterpart plain bar reinforced cracked beam. Bigger width of
cracks in the cracked beam reinforced with deformed bar than
those of plain bar RC beam is the reason for higher oxygen
permeability observed in that study. The ribs in the deformed
bar is the reason for bigger crack width in the former beam
than the latter beam. In another study, Mohammed et al.
(2002) reported significantly higher oxygen permeability of
concrete made by higher w/c ratio than the lower w/c ratio for
the same crack width of 0.3 mm. Uncracked region showed
significantly lower oxygen permeability than the cracked
region irrespective of w/c.
10. Effect of Healing of Cracks on Corrosion
While concrete structures crack due to various reasons,
some of the cracks also heal autogenously. Autogenous
healing is the ability of concrete to heal its cracks itself. In
the presence of moisture, free calcium hydroxide and
calcium oxide in cement matrix reacts with CO2 in atmosphere
and generates white colour calcium carbonate on the cracks
faces and seals them either partially or fully. It has been
observed in many studies that the smaller crack widths heal
more easily than its wider counterparts in concrete and
(Edvardsen 1999; Mohammed
et al. 2003; Sahmaran and Yaman 2008; Nishiwaki et al.
. However, the healing of cracks either fully and
partially significantly affect the penetration of chlorides and the
corrosion of steel in concrete. Edvardsen (1999) found that
the mean water flow rate of cracked concrete with 0.1 mm
width decreased significantly than that of crack width of
0.3 mm. The formation of calcium carbonate crystals on the
crack face of 0.1 mm crack width is the reason for such low
water flow rate this that study. Similar result is also reported
Reinhardt and Jooss (2003)
where cracked concrete
having crack widths of 0.05, 0.1 and 0.15 mm reduced the
water flow rate by 97, 95 and 85%, respectively after 300 h
of flow test. The concrete in their study contained about 10%
fly ash and 10% micro silica. According to them the
significant reduction in water flow is due to self-healing of the
cracks. Their research also shows that higher temperatures
such as 50 and 80 C favour the growth of self-healed
products in the same crack width than at 20 C, presumably
due to the faster hydration reaction at higher temperature.
Evidence of effect of self-healing of micro-cracks on the
water permeability of fibre reinforced cementitious
composites (FRCCs) is also observed in
Nishiwaki et al. (2014)
study where water permeability significantly reduced in
cracked FRCC having crack widths below 0.2 mm due to
the self-healing of those cracks. The only reported study
where the corrosion current of steel was measured in
selfhealed crack concrete containing fly ash and slag in a long
term study of 15 years in marine environment
et al. 2002)
. In that study three types of cements were used
namely the OPC, slag cements of type A, B and C (SCA,
SCB and SCC) and fly ash cement. Their results show that
the small crack widths (* 0.5 mm) healed autogenously
irrespective of type of binder in the concrete as evidenced by
the measured low micro-cell current density shown in
Fig. 15. Significantly lower current density were observed in
above concretes containing smaller crack widths (e.g., below
0.3 mm crack width) (see the bottom graph in Fig. 15) than
that of bigger crack widths as shown in top graph in Fig. 15.
The formation of self-healed products on those smaller
cracks is the cause for such low current density. Among
various concretes having same crack width, the concretes
containing fly ash and slag exhibited lower current density
than that of control OPC concrete, even the concretes
containing fly ash and slag having bigger crack widths (e.g., 0.2
and 0.3 mm) exhibited lower current densities than OPC
concrete with 0.1 mm crack width. The continued
pozzolanic activity of fly ash and slag is responsible for the
formation of more self-healed and hydration products on the
crack surface which reduced the ingress of chloride ions and
subsequent reduction of corrosion.
Fig. 15 Micro-cell current densities of unhealed cracks and
healed cracks of various concretes after 15 years of
(Mohammed et al. 2002)
By comparing all reported results on the effect of crack
widths on chloride ion or carbon-dioxide penetration and
corrosion of steel in concrete no distinct trend can be
established, except in few studies. If the effect of any
particular crack width on chloride ion or carbon-dioxide
penetration and corrosion of steel in concrete is considered, it can
be seen that for the same crack width the penetration of
chloride ions or carbon-dioxide and corrosion of steel is
different for different w/c ratios, SCMs types and their
contents in the concretes of same concrete cover. It clearly
shows that crack width is not the only factor accelerates the
ingress of chloride ions or carbon-dioxide and corrosion of
steel, quality of concrete also plays an important role. By
lowering the w/c ratios and incorporating SCMs the
concrete’s porosity can be reduced and the ingress of chloride
ions or carbon-dioxide, oxygen and moisture can be
significantly reduced. Therefore, in addition to control the crack
width the improvement of the quality of concrete is also
important as slightly bigger crack widths of good quality
concrete supposed to perform similar corrosion resistance to
poor quality concrete with smaller crack widths. This is also
valid for longitudinal cracks and for crack depth.
Corrosion of reinforcing steel in concrete is an important
durability issue during service life of RC structures.
Cracking is also unavoidable in RC structures during its
service life, which adversely affects its corrosion durability.
While this is an important durability issue for RC not much
research are reported in the literature especially in archival
journals. Within available articles conflicting results on the
effect of cracking on corrosion of steel in concrete are also
reported. This paper reviewed the available results and the
following can be summarised on the effects of cracking on
corrosion of steel in cracked concrete:
An increasing trend of corrosion of steel with widths of
transverse cracks is observed up to crack width of
0.3 mm. However, no such trend is observed beyond
this crack width limit.
The longitudinal cracks are found to be more severe in
terms of corrosion of steel in concrete than transverse
cracks of same width.
Cracked SCM modified concretes exhibited superior
corrosion resistance than cracked OPC concrete of
same width of transverse as well as longitudinal
Among two reported studies on the effect of crack
frequency (number of cracks in a certain length) on
corrosion of steel in cracked concrete, no trend can
be established. The theory proposed by
seems more logical as it is
evidenced in corrosion behaviour in multiple cracks of
Corrosion of steel in cracked concrete supposed to
increase with increase in crack depths as chloride
penetration depth as well as chloride diffusion increase
with increase in crack depths. The corrosion test result,
however, shows an opposite trend presumably due to
availability of less oxygen on the steel surface in
cathodic region under thick concrete cover.
Chloride ion penetration and diffusion is also
influenced by the widths of transverse cracks, however,
conflicting results are also reported in this case.
Diffusion of carbon dioxide through cracks also
increases with increase in crack widths and with
increase in w/c ratios for a constant crack width.
Self-healing of small crack widths reduced the water
permeability and corrosion of steel in cracked concrete.
The presence of cracks increase the oxygen
permeability of in cracked concrete and it reduced with
reduction of crack width and w/c ratio.
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