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Towers, Corrosion & Sustainability in Dubai’s Economy - Part 2

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In our last notes, we discussed how a leaky basement is a recipe for disaster waiting to happen. Why? Because clearly all the elements required for an effective corrosion cell (the basic building bloc of corrosion) to easily form and self replicate are present….in abundance.

But really, how bad can this corrosion get? Is it something that will make my building collapse? Is it something to worry about? Is it something to think about? How will it affect the sustainability of the building?

Lots of questions…

For starters, let us discuss how sustainability and corrosion are interlinked. If your building can be made to last an additional 20 years by stopping corrosion, then the technology that allows you to do this is a sustainable technology. This is the link between corrosion mitigation and sustainability.

What about our leaky basement? What can we expect in terms of how bad the corrosion can get.

The biggest risk posed to any structure from corrosion would be if the corrosion were to initiate in a ‘structurally sensitive’ area and remain accelerated and localized in that area. You can imagine what this would like; a gradual but accelerated reduction of the reinforcing steel diameter in an extremely short span of time. This is the nightmare situation for any building. It happens often. I have seen corrosion of structural columns in basements in under 5 years after completion that have caused massive cracking. It’s quite ugly and frightening. What does this tell us about how bad things can get? It’s very difficult to point to a specific rate of corrosion because corrosion is mix of so many factors – electrical, electrochemical reactions, temperature, moisture, pH and much much more. So in essence, it is difficult to predict – but who is prepared to take the chance? Would you? I wouldn’t! It is something to worry about.

The thing about corrosion is that it grows and gets worse as time passes – much like a tumor would. As a matter fact, in Australia, it is nicknamed  ‘concrete cancer’ - and unless you move quickly to snuff it out, its going to destroy the building and cost you an arm an a leg.

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Many owners have gone about attending to leaky basements in a strange kinda way. As soon as leak is seen, it is plugged by crack injection. Sometimes the situation is so bad that the top layer of concrete is removed and reinstated – all in the hope of …..wait for it…removing the salt chlorides. Now why would I care so much about the chlorides. Primarily because it is a corrosion initiator and when present in excess of a certain amount, corrosion is guaranteed.

If only we had a technology that would stop corrosion in an inexpensive way irrespective of how much chlorides were present! Well it exists. Cathodic Protection. In our next part on this blog, we will discuss how this technology works for basements.

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3 Reasons Why Corrosion Protection is the Sustainable Way for Buildings - Part 1

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In the UAE and in the region in general, the geology of our coastal cities in the Middle East require the use of pile or raft slab foundations built from reinforced concrete to be used. These very large underground structures are typically constructed in the water table. Waterproofing attempts typically fail to stop all water ingress, and the basements are often times leaky and inundated with groundwater or significant leaks. Sometimes I have seen entire basements flooded almost to the ceiling of the basement.

 The question we should be asking ourselves is, once the leaks are plugged and the water pumped out, do we still have a problem or are we in the clear?

Do we still have a problem or are we in the clear?

To be sure this is not a one liner. Let’s consider the situation. The floor is made from reinforced concrete. It is now fully laden with chlorides, even after removing all the offending water...

We certainly can’t see the chlorides, but they are there – unless you have somehow managed to miraculously to suction out the chlorides from within the concrete matrix.

With the chlorides present in party like quantities, you now have the main recipe for corrosion;

  • Salt

  • Water (moisture in the concrete)

  • Oxygen

Unfortunately for corrosion engineers, and fortunately for owners, the initiation of corrosion is not something that you can see. If the waterproofing fails…poof….and there is a leak

If corrosion begins….there is only silence. You won’t hear anything, you won’t see anything, at least not until it is too late.

So while the owner goes about renting out his building and counting his rental income, the corrosion reaction also goes about eating away at his steel foundation.

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What are the owner’s options?

 There are a plethora of remedies available. All claim to stop this phenomenon in some way or form. But to be honest there is only one method, which will in effect freeze the corrosion in its tracks. Cathodic Protection. In the next part of this blog, we discuss in more detail the corrosion problem, cathodic protection and sustainability.

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