Construction material monitoring with "optical hair" hygrometers

Moisture is an essential parameter in the behaviour of capillary-porous construction materials such as timber and concrete. It affects liquid and gas transport phenomena, chemical and biological degradation processes, mechanical properties and, in the case of concrete, hydration. From a scientific point of view, moisture monitoring is essential in order to improve the understanding of material behaviour. Moisture measurements may increase the predictive accuracy of established material behaviour models. In practice, the increased knowledge of material behaviour improves structural maintenance planning. The main objective of this work is to propose a measurement method for non-destructive, in-depth moisture monitoring of construction materials. In this context, an intrinsic point and an averaging fibre optic relative humidity sensor have been developed and tested. The sensors are based on optical fibres that are coated with a hygroscopically swelling transducer polymer. When wet, the swelling of the coating strains the fibre (analogy with the hair hygrometer). The induced strain is assessed with conventional fibre optic strain sensing techniques such as fibre Bragg gratings and Michelson interferometry. Theoretical and experimental studies lead to a detailed understanding of the influence of humidity and temperature on the steady and transient state sensor behaviour. The sensors have an accurate, linear, reversible and reproducible response to relative humidity between 5 and 95 %RH and between 13 and 60 °C, at least. The sensor response time is in the order of 20 minutes. However, when packaged, the sensor responds slower. The temperature cross-sensitivity of the fibre Bragg grating sensor may be compensated with an additional non-hygroscopic grating, while the Michelson interferometric sensor provides an auto-compensation of temperature effects. Tests in mortar and timber samples demonstrate that the sensors preserve their sensing ability when embedded. These tests have also clarified the multiplexing potential of fibre Bragg gratings for forming a multi-point RH sensor. Multi-point sensors are particularly useful for profile measurements.

Smith, Ian
Lausanne, EPFL

 Record created 2005-03-16, last modified 2018-03-17

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