Swinburne researchers have developed and patented a new type of concrete that is made out of waste materials and can bend under load.
Developed by Dr Behzad Nematollahi and Professor Jay Sanjayan, the material consists of industrial waste products such as fly ash – a by-product of coal-fired power stations.
Dr Nematollahi – ARC DECRA Fellow at Swinburne’s Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Digital Construction – says the material is perfectly suited for construction in earthquake zones where the use of conventional concrete often leads to disastrous building collapses.
“Concrete is the most widely used construction material in the world,” he says.
“In fact, it is the second-most consumed material by human beings after water. Its quality has a massive effect on the resilience of our infrastructure such as buildings, bridges and tunnels.”
Because of its brittle nature, traditional concrete is prone to shatter when being stretched or bent, and also has a huge carbon footprint due to calcination of limestone to produce its key ingredient, cement.
Dr Nematollahi believes he and his colleagues have done away with the need for concrete by using industrial waste products to make their product more sustainable.
“Production of this novel concrete requires about 36 per cent less energy and emits up to 76 per cent less carbon dioxide as compared to conventional bendable concrete made of cement,” he says.
“Furthermore, the inclusion of short polymeric fibres in this novel concrete allows it to sustain multiple hair-sized cracks when put under tension or bending and not break into pieces.”
Dr Nematollahi adds that buildings made from this bendable concrete will be much more likely to remain intact during earthquakes, hurricanes, projectile impacts, and blasts.
“Building in areas vulnerable to that sort of natural disaster is one of the main uses that we can see for this material,” he says.
“Our laboratory test results showed that this novel concrete is about 400-times more bendable than normal concrete, yet has similar strength.”