Oftentimes, the main reason for concrete degradation is the presence of water, whether it is on its own or carrying potentially corrosive chemicals.
Researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of Eastern Finland worked together to develop a new method of tracking water in concrete structure: electricity.
To generate an electrical image, electrodes are placed around the perimeter of the structure that is being analyzed. A computer program runs a small current between two electrodes at a time. With each current, the computer monitors and records the electrical potential at each electrode. The researchers plug this data into their software to compute the changes in conductivity and produce a 3-D image of the water's presence in the concrete. By knowing how much water is in the structure, and where, they can identify and correct potential issues before they become big problems.
This method is faster, safer and less expensive than existing technologies (x-rays or neutron radiation) that do the same job, according to the research team. These technologies are difficult or impossible to use on existing buildings in the field, but with electrical imaging, it can be done - and they're working on scaling up the system to do just that. While they have already created a prototype of the technology that has been tested in a laboratory setting and are ready to package and commercialize it for laboratory use, their next step is to scale up the system to assess private sector structures on-site.