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Size effect in concrete under compression

Arghya Deb
Associate Professor
Department of Civil Engineering
IIT Kharagpur

Composite: cement, sand, coarse aggregate.
Cement: silicates and aluminate of lime(Ca). In presence
of water, acquires adhesive & cohesive properties.
Water necessary for hydration of cement (~25% by wt.)
Additional water necessary for workability. Total water
content ~ 40%-60% by wt. of cement.
This water is not chemically bound can evaporate
depending on relative humidity.
Porosity of concrete due to evaporating free water as
well as air voids (~2% of total volume)

Concrete: main damage mechanisms

In concrete, weaker planes occur at the interface of the
cement mortar and the aggregate: as a result of
bleeding, shrinkage etc.
The micro cracks that appear at the interface tend to
propagate along the aggregate surfaces.

These micro cracks can combine to form macro cracks.

In addition there can be mortar cracks which run

through the matrix material, as well as aggregate
cracks which tend split apart the aggregates.

Concrete: anisotropy

Casting Direction

Accumulation of weak planes or

voids under large aggregate

Concrete: compression behaviour

The propagation of internal micro-cracks and micro-voids
is reflected in the macroscopic stress-strain behavior of
For instance, under uniaxial compression, growth of micro
cracks aligned to the direction of loading leads to stress

Direction of external loading


Concrete: tensile behavior

Tensile strength of concrete ~ one-tenth compressive
Under uniaxial tension, propagation of micro cracks
along a plane normal to the loading direction leads to
strain softening behavior.
The presence of steel reinforcement reduces crack
widths: stiffening effect on the post peak behavior.

Stress strain response of Concrete: effect of

Under confinement compressive strength of concrete

Confining pressure acts to prevent crack propagation

and leads to more ductile response.

Uniaxial Compression
Biaxial Compression
Triaxial Compression

Size Effect in Concrete

150 mm

300 mm

150 mm

Compressive strength of a cube is about 20% higher

than a cylinder made of the same concrete mix.

The LEFM size effect:

Size effect: variation of nominal strength with characteristic

size of a structural member.
Effect of specimen size on nominal strength in metals
loaded in tension is well known.

Within elastic range, nominal strength n
, where d is
the characteristic size of the specimen.
This is true for self similar specimens.

Self Similar Specimens:

Griffiths energy approach:

The fracture work W f is given as W f G f A where A

is the newly cracked area

Energy for fracture work is supplied by the strain energy

W n V

V: volume of neighbourhood contributing to crack growth

Using self-similarity and energy balance:

W f G f A G f o a2 G f o d 2

W n oa 3 n od 3

W f W n

LEFM not generally applicable to concrete:

Cracks in concrete are very different in geometry from

the idealized sharp cracks of linear elastic fracture

Crack front is highly irregular, blunted by a zone of
distributed micro cracking that precedes it, known as the
fracture process zone (FPZ).

In large structures, size of the fracture process zone is

negligible compared to the dimensions of the specimen:
LEFM size effect law can be used to determine the
influence of size on tensile strength of large specimens.

The Real Crack vs. The Fracture Process Zone

Experimental Evidence for size effect in concrete

Concrete specimens do exhibit size effect in uniaxial

tension and flexural loading.

Z.P. Bazant and J Planas (1997)Fracture and size effect in concrete and other quasibrittle materials CRC Press LLC.

If a LEFM based size effect is not applicable, the only

explanation is by means of a statistical size effect.

The case for a statistical size effect:

Concrete is a heterogeneous material with randomly
distributed voids and flaws.
Weibull distribution best approximates the tensile
strength distribution in concrete specimens.
Tensile failure occurs at places where tensile stresses

exceeds tensile strength.

Material structures at nano/micro/meso scale for cement and concrete (Van Mier 2007)

Material strength distribution:

Weibull function for different at =4 (1.25<x<10.25) (Van Mier et al. 2002)

Weibull distribution function:

f ( x)

: scale parameter, : shape parameter.

Stress distribution:
More extensive the region of high tensile stresses,
greater the chance of initiation of tensile fracture.

If the stress gradient reduces, the region of high tensile

stress increases: this increases chances of tensile
damage & leads to lower structural strength.
Stress gradients are known to be inversely proportional
to structural size.
As structure increases in size, stress gradient becomes
smaller: size of region with high tensile stresses increase

The influence of stress gradient:

Increase in size of highly stressed region results in a

decrease of structural strength with size.

Statistical Size effect:

Concisely: N is the number of flaws in specimen

d the characteristic specimen size

the gradient in the tensile stress

D the size of region with 0.9 cr (say)

N d



D d


, n

Asymptotic behaviour at very large sizes:

The reduction of strength with size is not indefinite.

Beyond a certain size the size vs. structural strength
curve tends to asymptote horizontally.
Once a structure is sufficiently large, the size of the
region with high tensile stress is sufficiently big.
It is sure to contain the critical mass of voids and flaws
necessary to precipitate failure.

For sizes larger than this size, there is no further

reduction in strength.

Statistical vs Energetic Size effect:

There is little doubt that a statistical size effect exists in

concrete. Does it explain the entire size effect observed
in concrete specimens?
For reasons mentioned earlier for a long time it was
thought that a fracture mechanics based energetic size
effect could not describe the size effect in concrete.
Bazants work in this area, in particular Bazants paper,

Size effect in blunt fracture: Concrete, rock, metal,

(ASCE, Journ. of Engg. Mech.,110(4),518-535,1984)
however led to a major reconsideration.

Bazants Size effect law:

The major innovation was the idea of a crack band.

Crack propagation depends on the geometry and stress
state in the FPZ, approximated by a crack band, rather
than the length of the open crack behind the FPZ.

FPZ is modeled as a band of fixed width, wc nda , n is

an integer and d a is the max. aggregate size.

Bazants Size effect law:

When the material in the crack band can transmit no

further stresses, the crack band becomes part of the
macro crack which further propagates by a .
Work of fracture per unit advance of crack band (fracture

Ec t2
G f wc 1
Et 2 Ec

The strain energy required for fracture has two sources:

strain energy in stress relief zone surrounding the crack
band and strain energy in fracture process zone (FPZ).

Bazants Size effect law:

Strain energy released is given by

1 P2
volume of contributo ry zone
2 Ec (bd )
1 P2
a wc a

2 Ec (bd ) 2 d d 2


Enforcing energy balance i.e.
G f b , it can be
shown that

B t
0 d a


B and 0 are constants

Asymptotes to LEFM:

If wc becomes vanishingly small, the crack band

geometry would approach the ideal crack of LEFM.
Function f in Eqn.(*) becomes a function of
Eqn(**) becomes

only and


If size of structure is very large, the term 1 d d ,

0 d a 0 d a
LEFM size dependence is recovered.

Asymptotes to limit criterion of failure:

On the other hand, if the size of the structure is very

small, then d contributes little to the denominator of

n B t

Experimental results have generally agreed with

Bazants size effect relation.

Bazants Size effect law:

Size effect in compression:

Concrete under compression also exhibits size effect.

Gonnerman in 1925 was the first to observe size effect in
nominal strength of cylinders and cubes.
In the absence of definitive knowledge about the size
effect, codes introduce factors of safety that account for
the variation of compressive strength with size.
Usually a factor of 1.2( BS 1881: Part120; BSI 1983) is

used to convert cylinder strength to cube strength

Effect of loading environment:

Failure mode in concrete specimens under compression

strongly depends on the loading environment.
Stiff i.e. nearly rigid plattens provide end restraints to
lateral motion through shear stresses
These shear stresses act to confine the concrete in a
conical zone beneath the loading platten.

Effect of loading environment;

If a flexible loading platten is used, such that the lateral
strains in the platten are more than in concrete shear
stresses act outward from the center of the specimen
Results in tensile stresses in the mortar. If tensile
stresses exceed the local tensile strength: growth of
nearly vertical splitting cracks.

Effect of loading environment;

These very different loading-platten dependent failure
modes complicate an already murky scenario. The
questions that can be posed therefore are:
Is there an energetic size effect for compressive loading
with rigid plattens?
Is there an energetic size effect for compressive loading
with flexible plattens?

Effect of loading environment;

Bazants Size effect in Compression:

Existence of energetic size effect in compression depends
on the configuration of the crack ( Bazant and Xiang

Splitting cracks oriented along loading direction do not

affect axial stress distribution: results in unchanged global

energy release and hence causes no size effect.
Inclined cracks will alter the axial stress field and will
change global energy release rate: result in size effect.

Bazants Size effect in Compression:

Inclined cracks:
Bazant and Xiang (1997) considered an inclined crack
band, formed by localization of large number of splitting
cracks of length h whose growth had been arrested.
The microslabs between the cracks were considered to
be short columns: global failure occurs when these
columns buckle.
Because of buckling of the micro-slabs, the stress, and

consequently the strain energy, in the material on both

sides of the crack band is reduced.

Size effect in Compression:

Bazants assumption

Bazants size effect law in compression:

In the crack band itself, there is accretion in strain
energy due to bending of the micro-slabs, but no further
increase of strain energy due to axial compression.
The crack band grows due to formation of further
splitting cracks.
By equating rate of loss of strain energy to the energy
required for crack band growth, the following size

dependence relation was obtained:

d 5

Experimental evidence:

Experimental evidence for a compressive size effect that

follows this law is sketchy.
Bazant and Kwon(1993)s experiments on reinforced
concrete prisms seem to support this relation.
Other experiments, however, e.g. those by Van Mier
(1997) do not show any effect of size on the peak stress.
Numerical simulations by Dros and Bazant (1989),

Bazant and Ozbolt (1992), Cusatis and Bazant (2006)

have all failed to capture any significant size effect in
concrete specimens under axial compression.

Lack of experimental evidence

No size effect for splitting crack growth:

In a homogeneous material, splitting crack growth under
unconfined compression is impossible.
Splitting crack growth in concrete due to tensile cracks
that develop at aggregate interfaces.
These cracks release the lateral stresses at the interface
but do not affect the primary vertical stresses.
Cracks are random, their sizes small, they do not affect

the vertical stresses: Bazant & Planas suggest they do

not affect global energy release & cause no size effect.

Crack growth mechanism

Vonks experiments:
Experimental study by Vonk(1992) however showed

existence of size effect for splitting crack growth with

flexible plattens

Vertical Splitting Cracks: no size effect at all?

Bazants reasoning for suggesting that splitting crack
growth causes no size effect at all, is not clear.
Energy reduction due to splitting crack may be local and
random, but it does causes release in stored elastic
strain energy and loss in lateral stress carrying capacity
in the specimen
Since splitting crack initiation and growth strongly

depends on the existence of inhomogenieites, whose

distribution is random, it seems quite probable that a
statistical size effect would exist.

Numerical simulations:

Numerical simulations to understand the size effect in

compression were performed using the ABAQUS finite
element code.
The concrete was modelled using the concrete damage
plasticity constitutive relations (Lubliner et al. (1989)).
This is a non-associative plasticity model, based on a
modified version of the Drucker Prager yield criterion and

the hyperbolic Drucker Prager flow criterion.

Numerical modeling of concrete:

It accounts for the different constitutive response of

concrete in tension and compression (fracture dominated
vs. plasticity dominated)
Accounts also for the pressure sensitivity of the
constitutive response.
Damaged states in tension and compression are
characterized by different equivalent plastic strains in

tension and compression.

Modified Drucker Prager yield criterion:

The yield criterion is written as

F ( , )
(q 3 p ( p ) I I ) c ( p )

Effective stress tensor

(1 d )

Hydrostatic component p 1 trace( )

S pI

Deviatoric component

Mises stress in terms of the effective stress q

is a material constant depending on the ratio of the

yield stresses in equi-biaxial and uniaxial compression

is a material constant depending on the ratio of q

Modified Drucker Prager yield criterion:

evaluated at yield in triaxial tension and triaxial


depends on the ratio of the cohesive stress in

compression and tension.

Effect of Confinement

External confinement of concrete increases strength

and ductility significantly

In elastic zone, the behavior of confined and unconfined

columns is very similar. On plastification small stress
increment causes large radial expansion

Confining pressure minimizes the expansion and growth

of tensile cracks in concrete & results in higher failure

Does confining pressure affect the size-dependent

response of concrete specimens?

Confinement by FRP wrap


Axial load


Model geometry, loading and

boundary conditions

Fiber reinforced polymers (FRP)

Fiber reinforced polymer (FRP) composites are typically

made of fibers such as glass, aramid, and carbon
embedded in a polyester or vinyl ester resin matrix.

The strength of FRP depends on the elastic properties of

the fiber and matrix, their relative volumes, and length
and orientation of fibers within matrix.

GFRP: Made of glass which is not as strong as carbon

fiber. It is much cheaper and significantly less brittle.

CFRP: Made of carbon fibers about 5-10m in diameter.

It has high modulus, high tensile strength.

AFRP: Made of aramid fiber.

Property ranges for different type of FRPs


Type of FRP

tensile stress


(% by wt)


GFRP laminate





CFRP Laminate





AFRP laminate





composites are corrosion resistant, lightweight, and

have high strength.
FRPs are commonly used in aerospace, automotive,
marine, and construction industries.
Applications include the construction of FRP bridge deck
systems, concrete decks with reinforcing FRP rebar, and
the strengthening and repair of existing structures.

Preparation of FRP wrapped specimens

Wrapped specimens after testing

Effect of confinement: a LEFM based explanation

If wrap stiffness above a certain threshold value, the
confining pressure activated will prevent localized failure
and result in strength gain.
Similar results from LEFM: Sato and Hashida (2006)
studied the fracture toughness of rocks deep inside the








They report that the apparent fracture toughness for rocks







Effect of confinement: a LEFM based explanation

The following relationship was proposed for the fracture
toughness and the confining pressure if the cohesive
stress ( c ) acting in the fracture process zone was

K p2


K c is the fracture toughness of the unconfined rock

K p is the fracture toughness after confinement

p0 is the magnitude of the confining pressure

Size effect in tension: closely resembles Bazants law.
Size effect in compression: combination of energetic &
statistical effects
Bazants model in compression: overpredicts size

effect for inclined crack band, ignores statistical size

effect for splitting crack growth.




concrete confirm these conclusions




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