The Science Behind Air-Entraining Admixtures for Stronger Concrete Structures

The Science Behind Air-Entraining Admixtures for Stronger Concrete Structures


Concrete is one of the most widely use construction materials in the world, known for its durability and versatility.

However, it is not immune to the forces of nature and the harsh conditions to which it is often expose.The development of stronger and more resilient concrete structures is essential to ensure their longevity. Air-entraining admixtures are a key component in achieving this goal. In this article, we will explore the science behind air-entraining admixtures and their role in creating stronger and more durable concrete structures.

The Basics of Concrete

To understand the significance of air-entraining admixtures, it is important to first grasp the fundamental principles of concrete. Concrete is a mixture of four primary ingredients: cement, water, aggregates (such as sand and gravel), and chemical admixtures. The cement binds the other components together, creating a solid and durable material.

One of the challenges in working with concrete is that it is prone to cracking due to several factors, including shrinkage during curing, temperature changes, and freeze-thaw cycles. Cracks in concrete can weaken its structural integrity, leading to costly repairs and reduced service life.

Air-Entraining Admixtures

Air-entraining admixtures are specialized chemicals added to concrete mixes to introduce microscopic air bubbles into the material.

These tiny bubbles, typically ranging in size from 10 to 500 micrometers, are evenly distributed throughout the concrete matrix. This process is known as air entrainment.

The primary function of these entrained air bubbles is to provide a protective mechanism that mitigates the adverse effects of cracking in concrete. This is achieved through several key mechanisms:

Freeze-Thaw Resistance:

in regions with cold climates, the presence of entrained air prevents the expansion of freezing water within the concrete’s pores. When water freezes, it expands, and without air bubbles to accommodate this expansion, it can cause internal pressure and cracking. The entrained air bubbles act as relief valves, accommodating the expansion of freezing water and thus reducing the risk of cracks.

Reducing Water-Cement Ratio:

Air-entraining admixtures allow for a reduction in the water-cement ratio, which is beneficial for the overall strength and durability of concrete. A lower water-cement ratio leads to a denser and stronger concrete matrix. The entrained air compensates for the reduced workability, ensuring that the concrete remains adequately mixable.

Improving Workability:

Air-entraining admixtures also enhance the workability of the concrete mixture, making it easier to place, consolidate, and finish. This is particularly important for construction projects where intricate or complex forms are require.

Increased Durability:

The presence of air bubbles increases the durability of concrete structures exposed to various environmental conditions, including de-icing salts, acid rain, and chemical exposure. These air bubbles create a barrier, preventing the ingress of harmful agents into the concrete matrix.

Science Behind Air Entrainment

The science behind air entrainment in concrete is well-understood and relies on the properties of surfactants or surface-active agents. Surfactants are chemicals that can lower the surface tension between two phases, such as air and water, or air and the liquid concrete mix.

Air-entraining admixtures typically contain surfactants that reduce the surface tension of water, allowing it to form stable bubbles when mixed with the concrete. These admixtures are carefully designe to create a balance between two key factors: stability and durability of the air bubbles.

Stability of Air Bubbles:

The surfactants in the admixture must create bubbles that are stable and do not coalesce or collapse during the mixing, placing, and curing of the concrete. The choice of surfactants and their concentration is crucial to achieving this stability.

Durability of Air Bubbles:

The air bubbles created by the admixture should be able to withstand the mechanical stresses and environmental factors that the concrete structure may encounter. This means that they should not break or disappear over time.

To maintain this balance between stability and durability, researchers and manufacturers continuously develop and test new admixture formulations. The effectiveness of an air-entraining admixture is often measure through specific tests, such as the pressure meter test (ASTM C231) and the air content test (ASTM C138).

Proper Application of Air-Entraining Admixtures

The successful use of air-entraining admixtures in concrete requires careful consideration and expertise. Here are some key considerations for their proper application:


The amount of air-entraining admixture use should be determine based on the project’s specific requirements and conditions. Overdosing or underdosing can lead to undesirable outcomes.


The selected admixture should be compatible with the other components of the concrete mix, including the cement, aggregates, and other chemical admixtures. Compatibility testing is often conduct to ensure the effectiveness of the admixture in the specific concrete mix.


Adequate mixing is crucial to distribute the air-entraining admixture uniformly throughout the concrete. Proper mixing ensures that the air bubbles are evenly disperse and maintain their stability.

Regular testing of the concrete’s air content is essential to verify that the desired level of entrained air is achieve. Adjustments can be make as necessary during the construction process.


Air-entraining admixtures play a vital role in the development of stronger and more durable concrete structures. By introducing stable air bubbles into the concrete matrix, these admixtures enhance freeze-thaw resistance, reduce water-cement ratios, improve workability,

and increase the overall durability of the material. The science behind air entrainment involves a careful balance of surfactants to create stable and durable air bubbles. When applied correctly, these admixtures can significantly extend the lifespan of concrete structures and reduce maintenance costs, making them an essential tool in the construction industry.