M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust grant supports WSU concrete sealer research

Comparison of a concrete sample coated with nano-modified sealer (left) versus untreated concrete (right).
Comparison of a concrete sample coated with nano-modified sealer (left) versus untreated concrete (right).

Washington State University researchers have received a grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust to develop a new, more durable concrete sealer that protects bridges, pavement, and other structures from salt and water damage. The grant will support testing the sealer in the elements on concrete infrastructure throughout the WSU campus or in Pullman.

“This is important research with practical results, leading to safer and more resilient structures, and in turn, a more sustainable future for concrete infrastructure,” said Moses Lee, vice president for scientific research grants and programming at the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust.

The $49,000 grant to WSU reflects the Murdock Trust’s continued investment in Washington and the Pacific Northwest. Over the last 10 years, the Trust has contributed approximately $220 million to nonprofits in Washington through more than 1,100 grants.

Zhipeng Li prepares a nano-modified concrete sealer.
Zhipeng Li prepares a nano-modified concrete sealer.

WSU Professor Xianming Shi and graduate student Zhipeng Li engineered the sealer using nanomaterials that penetrate the concrete. Tests show it repels 44% more salt and 75% more water than common topical sealers.

This research is increasingly important due to the nation’s aging infrastructure and damage caused by freeze-and-thaw cycles in the Pacific Northwest and other cold climates. The novel sealer will help protect pavement, bridges, and other concrete structures against erosion from water and salts, like chloride-based deicer.

“The use of our product can result in longer service life, improved performance, reduced carbon dioxide emissions footprint, and reduced life-cycle cost of concrete assets, contributing to sustainable and resilient concrete infrastructure,” said Shi, chair and professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “The support of this Murdock grant will enable the team to conduct more field demonstrations of the technology and accelerate our commercialization progress in the ‘green’ sealer market.”

To develop the sealer, Shi and Li used a commercial potassium methyl siliconate sealer and added two nanomaterials, graphene oxide, and montmorillonite nanoclay. They found the new sealer repels water, increases density and decreases gas permeability, leading to lower water absorption and better resistance to salt scaling than common sealers. Shi and Li have completed their preliminary market analysis and are continuing to study how well the sealer protects concrete from regular wear and tear, saving money on maintenance and replacement.

As part of the award, the Washington State University Office of Commercialization is also providing $60,0000 in support of the work.

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