Zirconia: Saving Florida’s Condos from Salt Corrosion with Green-Tech

The collapse of the Surfside condominium in Florida was a big story in the news cycle, but really only a small part of the larger story about the failure of planning, maintenance, and materials science. This is also a great example of how better materials science improves environmental and social sustainability.

In Florida, many residents, including a vast number of lower income elderly residents, live in condominiums near the beach.  The weather is warm, sunny, and wonderful, great for seniors and warm weather vacationers. Florida has over 1.5 million condominium units, mostly made of concrete, and mostly within two miles of the ocean beach, enjoying that warm ocean breeze.

However, the salty air from an evaporating warm ocean is a relentless corroder of concrete and steel, especially within the first two miles from the ocean, where airborne salts are more concentrated. In fact, warm, moist salty air is a relentless destroyer of all types of concrete structures, residential, commercial and infrastructure.

There has never been a good solution for the aggressive salt corrosion attacking concrete condominiums in Florida.  And, while the primary condominium buildings are corroding, their associated structures, like parking garages and pools are also being eaten away.  Bridges, roads, and other municipal infrastructure suffer this same fate. The cost to fix the salt corrosion problem once it has advanced, is extreme.  So, there is economic and social harm happening here, as many seniors cannot afford repair bills of tens of thousands of dollars. And, to be clear, the savings of many seniors is wrapped up in their home, so losing the value of this investment in later years can be devastating.

Many of these condominium structures were built in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s so they are already reaching the age where the history of maintenance, or the lack thereof, becomes readily and sometimes painfully apparent.  Miami Dade and two other counties now require 30-year and 40-year engineering reports verifying fitness of the structure, and every 10 year afterwards.  After the Surfside condominium collapse, due in part to lack of maintenance, many condominium owners are considering more stringent inspections and greater attention to maintenance and repairs, which had been lax in the past.  Certainly, ignoring this problem will not make it go away.  There are a large number of condominium structures that have existing damage that need restoration and preservation work performed immediately.  But, the sheer volume of these repairs will take decades to complete.

Why is salt a problem?  Because, salt is like a chemical crowbar that levers and breaks concrete apart millimeter by millimeter. Salt, which is sodium chloride, liquifies in the presence of moisture or humidity then recrystallizes and expands within the concrete. This dissolving and expanding cycle continues indefinitely, once salt enters the concrete, causing concrete to crack deeper and deeper.  Salt also attacks the cement binder chemistry of concrete, causing it to erode, which also allows the salt to penetrate deeper.  Each millimeter of cracking and erosion allow the salt to penetrate deeper and continue eating the concrete away, in a relentlessly destructive reinforcing cycle.  As the salt corrosion reaches the structurally reinforcing steel, salts accelerate steel corrosion, which rusts and  expands (spalls), losing its structural strength.

The unfortunate result of this salt corrosion behavior is reduced structural strength, until one day the concrete and reinforcing steel crumbles. Generally, the only way to stop this salt corrosion behavior is to stop it from entering the concrete in the first place. This would require some type of salt barrier, which did not exist until now.

Making matters worse, current technology does not work: Epoxies and other film-forming coatings are just adhering (temporarily sticking) to the concrete surfaces, rather than actually chemically bonding with the concrete. This means moisture can intrude, causing coating film delamination failures in elevated concrete where moisture can get to the coating from underneath, and where thermal changes accelerate film delamination. Film-forming coatings (epoxies, polyurethanes) are also destroyed by UV light from sunshine, and simply cannot provide the durability or reliability necessary for protecting concrete from salt, water, and weathering.

About CeramycGuardTM, a Ceramic Surface Treatment

To solve the salt corrosion problem, engineers, architects, and builders have been looking for better building technology and they are finding it with Zirconia’s family of salt and waterproofing technologies.  Zirconia’s restoration happens in three parts:

1. Before applying CeramycGuardTM, we use a special nano-scale solution of colloidal silica that penetrates deep into concrete forming a natural cement gel, which either pushes salt out of the concrete, or encapsulates it, locking down any residual salts in this zone and preventing further harm.  This protects both the concrete and the structural steel.

2. We then apply our CeramycGuardTM coating, our main nano-ceramic technology that uses alumina and zirconia silicates to strengthen, preserve and protect concrete surfaces. This dense nano-ceramic polymer penetrates and atomically bonds to all available elements in the concrete, shielding the surface from salts, water, and weathering. CeramycGuard is not affected by salt, heat, humidity, wet/dry cycles, or ultraviolet light from sunshine.  It fills the surface, including the pores where salt enters, rebonds the concrete, fills and repairs cracks, and generally stabilizes and protects the concrete surface.  

3. For the final topcoat seal, we may also use QuartzSealTM or our new ComposiCoatTM BP ceramic-organic hybrid technology, which forms a super tough composite with the CeramycGuardTM.  ComposiCoat BPTM is ultra-durable, chemical and wear resistant, so great for parking garages and other areas needing a durable wear layer.

Both the general contractor we are working with, and their clients in the Miami area, are pleased to have a reliable salt and waterproofing system that is based on green chemistry (water-based, and green solvent-based) and does not fill the air with toxic hazardous solvents. This is great for the health of workers, and respects elderly residents. 

Finally, better material science makes a difference here in terms of social impact. We are proud that our technology can be used to restore and preserve the condominium homes of many poor elderly residents, who deserve to have their golden years devoid of expensive corrosion related repairs. These expenses fall hardest on those without the means to pay, so better to keep our most vulnerable seniors safe and happy in their homes.

For more information, please see our website at https://zirconiainc.com

Also, feel free to leave a message on the web site if you have any questions or have other interests in our technology and we will get back to you shortly.