Objective: Aim of this paper is to investigate the interactions between industrial-grade
polycarboxylate ether (PCE) polymers and ordinary Portland cement to assess whether is possible
to draw structure/performance relations for impure, yet fully characterized, polymers.
Method: To this end thirteen PCE polymers were synthesised in industrial fashion, deeply analyzed
and tested in cement paste. Chemical stability and adsorption behaviour have been evaluated
through gel permeation chromatography technique, leading to insights regarding the plasticization
timing and the adsorption control.
Results: All the results were interpreted and critically discussed by invoking the characteristics of
initial dispersers and workability retainers; furthermore a comprehensive description has been attempted
through the Gay and Raphael conformation plot, based on the establishment of which molecular
feature affects each step of the PCE's working mechanism.
Conclusion: The results confirm many of the findings despite the imperfect nature of the
chosen polymers and show that common impurities, such as unreacted side chains, do not noticeably
interact with the binder. In particular it is clear that the limiting stage of the entire action
lies on adsorption rate and occurrence, which seems to be ruled by the absolute value of
charge per chain and by the conformation regime.