RFID Tags for Detecting Concrete Degradation in Bridge Decks

Project status


Start date: 06/01/11
End date: 12/31/13


Principal investigator:

Co-principal investigators:

About the research

Steel reinforcing bar (rebar) corrosion due to chlorine ingress is the primary degradation mechanism for bridge decks. In areas where rock salt is used as a de-icing agent, salt water seeps into the concrete through cracks, causing corrosion of the rebar and potentially leading to catastrophic failure if not repaired. This project explores the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags as low-cost corrosion sensors.

RFID tags, when embedded in concrete, will fail due to corrosion in the same manner as rebar after prolonged exposure to salt water. In addition, the presence of salt water interferes with the ability to detect the tags, providing a secondary mechanism by which this method can work.

During this project, a fieldable RFID equipment setup was constructed and tested. In addition to a number of laboratory experiments to validate the underlying principles, RFID tags were embedded and tested in several actual bridge decks.

Two major challenges were addressed in this project: issues associated with tags not functioning due to being in close proximity to rebar and issues associated with portland concrete coming in direct contact with the tags causing a detuning effect and preventing the tags from operating properly. Both issues were investigated thoroughly.

The first issue was determined to be a problem only if the tags are placed in close proximity to rebar. The second issue was resolved by encapsulating the tag. Two materials, polyurethane spray foam and extruded polystyrene, were identified as providing good performance after testing, both in the lab and in the field.


Report: RFID Tags for Detecting Concrete Degradation in Bridge Decks (940.56 kb pdf) December 2013

Tech transfer summary: RFID Tags for Detecting Concrete Degradation in Bridge Decks (618.83 kb pdf) Dec 2013



  • Federal Highway Administration State Planning and Research Funding
  • Iowa Department of Transportation
Illustration: Several RFID tag styles tested
Several RFID tag styles tested