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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Previous projects > New Products and Materials > A concrete step towards reinforcement
Graphic element A concrete step towards reinforcement
For some time, American and Japanese companies have had access to technology that allows non-corroding polymer fibres to be used as an alternative to steel in reinforcing concrete. Thanks to a Brite-Euram project, Europe has caught up in this field. Extensive development and testing means that Europe's civil engineers can now specify new materials in construction projects of all kinds.

The classic Doric columns of the Parthenon in Athens are a universally-known symbol of a great early civilisation. What is not so widely known is that they are in some danger of falling down. The reason for this is that, in the last century, they were restored. Not, one might think, a bad thing. There is a problem, however. The architects and engineers involved in this particular conservation project used steel reinforcement in the new crossbeams they installed. Steel corrodes, which means that the renovated columns are in trouble. This fact is not lost on today's builders. They realise that the acidic nature of stone building materials, such as concrete, and the effects of atmospheric pollution, such as acid rain, can render steel a less-than-perfect reinforcing material for stone - and particularly concrete - structures. Quite simply, the use of steel reinforcement could limit the life of a building.

Recognising the problem and composing composites

In the early 1980s, German companies developed new methods of using glass fibre reinforced plastics (FRP) in concrete constructions. Japanese and American companies further developed the technology using alternative, non-corroding reinforcing materials. These materials - similar to glass FRPs - can be used to impart the same mechanical properties to concrete that can be obtained using steel, while remaining resistant to a hostile environment. Europe, however, had a problem: it did not have access to this new materials technology and needed to develop its own. A Brite-Euram project set out to put this right.
Dr Matthias Scheibe, a representative of the German SME SUSPA Spannbeton, knows of the problems involved: he co-ordinated the project. "There are a number of possible candidates to replace steel in reinforced or pre-stressed concrete," he explains, "but one of the major problems we had to tackle was anchoring these materials within the concrete, so that they could be relied upon to produce the required strength." That is exactly what the partners - including Belgian, Dutch and German companies - did.
"We put together a consortium with all the required expertise," Dr Scheibe explains. "SUSPA concentrated on the development of fibre reinforced plastics for use in concrete elements; AKZO Nobel's main role was to evaluate, select and produce the various FRPs we were interested in. The Technical University of Braunschweig looked at anchoring the reinforcing materials and long-term testing of the resulting concrete blocks, while the University of Gent studied the behaviour of reinforced and pre-stressed concrete produced with the candidate materials. At the same time, DYWIDAG and NEDRI optimised the anchoring systems."
"But it wasn't just glass FRPs that we investigated," says Scheibe. "We also considered the use of aramid materials, or AFRP, as well as carbon (CFRP). As the project progressed, it became apparent that the different types of reinforcing systems all had their strong and weak points. This led us to carry out continuous modifications to the basic materials and to refine the production technologies needed to make them. The final results demonstrated that the various reinforcing materials all had valuable characteristics, which were predictable, consistent and suitable for different applications."

Taking technology to the market

Suitable indeed. The partners are now implementing the results in various ways. DYWIDAG has developed the patented DYWIDUR® glass FRP system and is now embarking on a global marketing and distribution campaign. Likewise, NEDRI is conducting an aggressive marketing campaign to commercialise CFRP products. For its part, SUSPA is continuing its own research and development programme, with the ultimate aim of increasing the level of acceptance of AFRPs in the construction industry.
The academic results for the two universities are also noteworthy. In addition to the acquisition of scientific experience and know how, between them they have created a new set of test methods which look as though they could well serve as the basis for an internationally accepted set of standards and norms.
"We've levelled the playing field," claims Scheibe. "For a long time, the Americans and Japanese held a considerable lead in this area of expertise, but now, European civil engineers have the tools at their disposal to compete in a global market. The results have already been used in pilot construction projects, such as tunnels and bracings, and the new technology performs well. Europe now has a strong position in fibre composites for use in structural engineering."

Cordis RCN: 4166
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