ECU professor to help study effectiveness of concrete sealants

An East Carolina University professor is taking a crack — literally — at solving road problems in North Carolina.

Dr. Amin Akhnoukh

Dr. Amin Akhnoukh, associate professor in the Department of Construction Management, will be working with N.C. State’s Dr. Mohammed Pour-Ghaz as part of a grant from the N.C. Department of Transportation to study commercial concrete sealants used to treat cracks in roads, bridges, tunnels and other highway projects.

“Cracking is so dangerous as it allows moisture, water vapor and de-icing salts to penetrate inside the concrete surface, which shorten its life span,” said Akhnoukh, who is the co-principal investigator on the research. “Also, the intrusion of moisture and chemicals to the concrete results in expedited steel corrosion that might result in structural failure.”

Work on the two-year, $254,257 grant is scheduled to start on Aug. 1.

“The research is required to reduce the life cycle cost of the project — bridge, highway, tunnel, etc. — by increasing the project life span and minimizing required maintenance,” Akhnoukh said, adding that improved crack sealants would also lead to better road conditions for drivers.

Of course, no two cracks are the same. Akhnoukh pointed out that the study would look at the orientation of the crack — whether it’s horizontal or vertical — and its size, width and age. Other factors such as the type of concrete mix, moisture content and expected loads in the area of the crack are also factors.

“The goal is to find the best sealant given the project type, crack type, loading and environmental conditions,” Akhnoukh said. “Also, the best practice in applying sealant is required to be investigated.”

He said the research would begin by surveying the market for the types of sealants that are available. Lab work would include experiments using the various sealants to repair crack specimens, testing the strength of sealants and looking at the impact of different environmental conditions on sealants. Akhnoukh and Pour-Ghaz will be responsible for making a final report on their outcomes to the N.C. Department of Transportation.

Akhnoukh said one ECU undergraduate student would be hired to assist in data collection and lab work.

Akhnoukh has been involved in a variety of Department of Transportation research projects on road construction and road conditions, including one that looks at the future of bridge construction in North Carolina and another on integrated abutment bridge construction as examples.

“I have six different active grants with NCDOT,” he said. “My research is primarily to develop guidelines for better construction practices and improving the performance of highway construction materials to increase projects’ life spans and reduce maintenance intervention.”