Impact of low-reactivity calcined clay on the performance of fly ash-based geopolymer mortar

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Availability of aluminosiliceous materials is essential for the production and promotion of geopolymer concrete. Unlike fly ash, which can only be found in industrial regions, clays are available almost everywhere but have not received sufficient attention to their potential use as a precursor for geopolymer synthesis. This study investigates the effectiveness of calcined clay as a sole and binary precursor (with fly ash) for the preparation of geopolymer mortar. Fly ash-based geopolymer containing between 0 and 100% low-grade calcined clay was prepared to investigate the effect of calcined clay replacement on the geopolymerization process and resultant mortar, using a constant liquid/solid ratio. Reagent-grade sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and sodium silicate (Na2SiO3) were mixed and used for the alkali solution preparation. Six different mortar mixes were formulated using sand and the geopolymer binder, comprising varying fly ash-to-calcined clay ratios. The combined effect of the two source materials on compressive strength, setting time, autogenous shrinkage, and porosity was studied. The source materials were characterized using XRD, SEM, FTIR, and XRF techniques. Isothermal calorimetry was used to characterize the effect of low-grade calcined clay on the geopolymerization process. The addition of calcined clay reduced the surface interaction between the dissolved particles in the alkali solution, leading to slow initial reactivity. Geopolymer mortar containing 20% calcined clay outperformed the reference geopolymer mortar by 5.6%, 17%, and 18.5% at 7, 28, and 91 days, respectively. The MIP analysis revealed that refinement of the pore structure of geopolymer specimens containing calcined clay resulted in the release of tensional forces within the pore fluid. Optimum replacement was found to be 20%. From this study, the mutual reliance on the physical and inherent properties of the two precursors to produce geopolymer mortar with desirable properties has been shown. The findings strongly suggest that clay containing low content of kaolinite can be calcined and added to fly ash, together with appropriate alkali activators, to produce a suitable geopolymer binder for construction applications.
Original languageEnglish
Article number13556
Number of pages15
Issue number18
Early online date11 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (


This research was funded by Coventry University under project code 17172-01 and the APC was funded by MDPI open access publishing in Basel/Switzerland.


  • calcined clay
  • geopolymer
  • mortar
  • fly ash
  • shrinkage
  • strength
  • porosity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)


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