The size effect in corrosion greatly influences the predicted life span of concrete infrastructures
Forecasting the life of concrete infrastructures in corrosive environments presents a long-standing and socially relevant challenge in science and engineering. Chloride-induced corrosion of reinforcing steel in concrete is the main cause for premature degradation of concrete infrastructures worldwide. Since the middle of the past century, this challenge has been tackled by using a conceptual approach relying on a threshold chloride concentration for corrosion initiation (Ccrit). All state-of-the-art models for forecasting chloride-induced steel corrosion in concrete are based on this concept. We present an experiment that shows that Ccrit depends strongly on the exposed steel surface area. The smaller the tested specimen is, the higher and the more variable Ccrit becomes. This size effect in the ability of reinforced concrete to withstand corrosion can be explained by the local conditions at the steel-concrete interface, which exhibit pronounced spatial variability. The size effect has major implications for the future use of the common concept of Ccrit. It questions the applicability of laboratory results to engineering structures and the reproducibility of typically small-scale laboratory testing. Finally, we show that the weakest link theory is suitable to transform Ccrit from small to large dimensions, which lays the basis for taking the size effect into account in the science and engineering of forecasting the durability of infrastructures.
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