Vattenfall develops “climate-smarter concrete” for hydropower structures

Concrete dam

Vattenfall has developed a climate-smart hydropower concrete with less cement content that can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about a quarter.

Cement production generates large carbon dioxide emissions. Reducing the cement content of construction concrete directly reduces strain on the environment, Vattenfall said. One way to reduce cement quantity and heat development internationally is to use by-products that react with cement. This method has been combined with lessons learned from Vattenfall’s major periods of expansion in the 1950s and 1960s to develop a climate-smart concrete concept.

The first major structures using this new concrete have recently been built at the Lilla Edet power station in Göta älv near Gothenburg in Sweden. Vattenfall is replacing parts of the existing dam with a brand new one by 2024. Various methods have been investigated to reduce the amount of cement in construction concrete, thereby reducing both the burden on the climate and the need for cooling. Extensive tests have been carried out to ensure that the concrete works for construction purposes and, above all, meets the requirements for dam safety and durability for over 100 years from now.

Lower temperature reduces risk of cracking

Casting rough concrete structures creates exacting demands for handling the temperature increase that occurs inside the concrete. Otherwise, cracks can appear. One common method is after-cooling via pipes inside the rough concrete structures to reduce the temperature increase. However, the reduced amount of cement gives a lower temperature increase than usual.

There is also a positive effect on the working environment for the construction workers, as the large amount of cooling pipes inside the castings otherwise leads to tight spaces and difficulties in evacuating people in the event of an accident.

“The objective was to define a climate-smart concrete concept that is ready to be implemented at the start of construction. This is as long as a maintained or extended service life can be assured for the structures and that from a production point of view it’s a robust concrete concept that does not cause disruption or cost increases in the construction phase,” says Erik Nordström, development engineer at Vattenfall R&D.

To ensure the developed concrete concept works in practice, a full-scale demonstration casting was carried out together with the contractor, NCC, and the concrete supplier, Thomas Concrete Group. This gave the opportunity to test pump the concrete over a longer distance, and concrete workers were given the opportunity to evaluate whether the properties worked from a practical point of view. The demonstration casting went excellently without pump stops. Monitoring of temperature increase and strain during setting was done using fiber optic measurements in collaboration with Chalmers University of Technology.

There are also future plans to use this concrete concept, for example, with wind power, although some adjustments would then be required for the composition of the concrete. “You could use this concept when, for example, casting wind power foundations, although the actual composition of the concrete would then probably need to be slightly adjusted to suit the specific exposure environment,” says Nordström. 

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Elizabeth Ingram is content director for the Hydro Review website and HYDROVISION International. She has more than 17 years of experience with the hydroelectric power industry. Follow her on Twitter @ElizabethIngra4 .

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