Evolution of the pore structure during the early stages of the alkali-activation reaction: An in situ small-angle neutron scattering investigation

Claire Emily White, Daniel P. Olds, Monika Hartl, Rex P. Hjelm, Katharine Page

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The long-term durability of cement-based materials is influenced by the pore structure and associated permeability at the sub-micrometre length scale. With the emergence of new types of sustainable cements in recent decades, there is a pressing need to be able to predict the durability of these new materials, and therefore nondestructive experimental techniques capable of characterizing the evolution of the pore structure are increasingly crucial for investigating cement durability. Here, small-angle neutron scattering is used to analyze the evolution of the pore structure in alkali-activated materials over the initial 24 h of reaction in order to assess the characteristic pore sizes that emerge during these short time scales. By using a unified fitting approach for data modeling, information on the pore size and surface roughness is obtained for a variety of precursor chemistries and morphologies (metakaolin-and slag-based pastes). Furthermore, the impact of activator chemistry is elucidated via the analysis of pastes synthesized using hydroxide-and silicate-based activators. It is found that the main aspect influencing the size of pores that are accessible using small-angle neutron scattering analysis (approximately 10-500 Å in diameter) is the availability of free silica in the activating solution, which leads to a more refined pore structure with smaller average pore size. Moreover, as the reaction progresses the gel pores visible using this scattering technique are seen to increase in size.The impact of precursor and activator chemistry on the development of nanosized pores in alkali-activated materials has been determined using small-angle neutron scattering. The emergence of pores during the initial 24 h of reaction has been quantified, with contrast variation showing that the dominant source of scattering is from pores in this type of sustainable cement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-75
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Applied Crystallography
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


  • Small-Angle neutron scattering
  • alkali-activated materials
  • gel pores
  • nanoscale morphology
  • pore structure


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