Microstructural Evolution and Physical Properties of Polymer-Modified Mortars

Jenni, Andreas (2003). Microstructural Evolution and Physical Properties of Polymer-Modified Mortars (Unpublished). (Dissertation, University of Bern, Institute of Geological Sciences)

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Polymer-modified cementitious materials provide the base for building materials commonly used on modern
construction sites. By adding polymers, the properties of cementitious materials can be extended to suit a variety
of applications. With respect to adhesion properties, for example, the first patent of latex-modified hydraulic
cement systems was issued in 1924 (Lefebure 1924). In the field of tile adhesives, latex-modification allowed thinbed
application, a technique that is still standard because of its economic advantages with respect to application
time and resource costs. Before invention of redispersible powders, the appropriate latex was only available in the
form of dispersions. Mortar mixing was an important issue, which when improperly performed, often caused cases
of damage at construction sites. The development of latex in the form of redispersible powders drastically reduced
this problem, because it allowed the production of one-component systems or so-called “dry mortars”, which only
require the appropriate amount of water to be added before application.
Mortar properties were continuously improved by optimising the formulation or enhancing the system's
components. Empirical approaches dominated, in which numerous formulations were compared with each other,
in terms of physical properties of the resultant mortars. To further improve these properties at the present stage, an
extended understanding of the mechanisms active during mortar evolution is required. Many of these mechanisms
leave characteristic marks on the mortar microstructures, which, once recognised and related to the corresponding
mechanism, can be linked with the physical properties. Therefore, the microstructure represents a major key to an
improved understanding of the highly complex system of polymer-modified mortars.
The cementitious, mineralic microstructures can be investigated by methods commonly applied in earth and
material sciences. In contrast, organic compounds like polymers can form delicate and fragile structures requiring
specific techniques that originated in the field of organic chemistry and biology. Therefore, the investigation of tile
adhesive requires an interdisciplinary approach, in which methods from different fields of research are adapted and
As is common in applied research, the investigation of polymer-modified mortars is a tightrope walk between the
complex, commercial system and model systems usually based on crude simplifications. The combination of both
approaches might result in large forward steps in understanding, and new insights.
The present study on polymer-modified, cementitious mortars tries to incorporate the previously mentioned
requirements and is organised in the following manner: (a) methods of quantitative investigations, (b) influence of
polymers on microstructure and physical properties, (c) changes of microstructures and physical properties during
wet storage.
a) The first chapter describes the new methods developed to quantitatively investigate microstructures in
polymer-modified mortars. A combination of digital light, fluorescence and electron microscopy allowed the
visualisation of different mortar components such as specific polymer components, air voids, cement phases,
and filler minerals. In a second step, their occurrence and spatial distribution was quantified by image
analysis requiring appropriate program routines, whose use and functionality is explained. To demonstrate the
power of the new quantitative approach in the field of polymer-modified tile adhesives, a selected mortar
formulation was analysed as an example. The results show that the mortar fractionated during application and
hardening, inducing a variety of phase enrichments or depletions. The occurrence of these microstructural
heterogeneities suggests the major influence that the microstructure has on the physical properties of the
mortar system.
b) In the second chapter, the microstructural evolution of the mortar and the mechanisms involved were
investigated by using the methodology developed above. It is shown that water flux, induced by evaporation
and capillary forces of the porous substrate, played the most important role in mortar fractionation. It
transported cellulose ether, polyvinyl alcohol, and cement ions to the mortar interfaces, where they became
accumulated. In contrast, latex components did not migrate and remained homogeneously distributed within
the microstructure. Combination of quantitative with qualitative investigations allowed a reconstruction of the
mechanisms forming the microstructure during the different mortar stages. By correlating microstructural
observations with physical properties (e.g., adhesive strength), skinning on the mortar surface of the applied
fresh paste was found to decrease adhesion strength to the tile. As a consequence, it is the mortar-tile interface
that dominates the properties of the entire hardened substrate-mortar-tile system.
c) In chapter three the influence of wet storage on the microstructure and its physical properties are investigated.
Wet storage represents an important test criteria on the durability of polymer-modified systems exposed to
wet conditions in case of outdoor or bath room applications. Tests on individual polymer structures revealed
that cellulose ether and polyvinyl alcohol redissolved in the pore water, whereas latices were water-resistant.
Consequently, latex distributions in the mortar measured before and after wet storage were identical because
latex remained immobile, but cellulose ether and polyvinyl alcohol distributions changed. By combining
these observations with microstructural investigations of the failure surfaces, pore size, shrinkage and
physical test data, we were able to show that changes in the mortar volume and reinitiated cement hydration
caused a decrease of the mechanical properties during wet storage. Although they remained immobile, the
latex films also weakened due to water uptake and swelling, which was shown to be a reversible mechanism.
The appendix A includes non-published studies in a short and descriptive form. The corresponding database is
available upon request after consultation with the author and Elotex AG. Appendix B includes extended abstracts
of the given talks.

Item Type:

Thesis (Dissertation)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences > Tectonics
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences > Applied Rock-Water-Interaction

UniBE Contributor:

Jenni, Andreas


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology
600 Technology > 660 Chemical engineering




Andreas Jenni

Date Deposited:

17 Aug 2016 17:25

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:57

Additional Information:

Type of Work: Doctoral Thesis





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