University of Plymouth


The Potential of

Composite Materials in

Civil Engineering applications

John Summerscales

University of Plymouth

Civil engineering

• ICE definition includes …

– about creating, improving and protecting

the environment in which we live.

– facilities for day-to-day life and for transport and industry to go about its work.

– Civil engineers design and build bridges, roads, railways and tunnels. They also design and build tall buildings and large structures …

Outline of talk

Buildings, highways, water supply and drainage, coastal protection etc

Numerical modelling (FEA/CFD) and optimal design (e.g. genetic algorithms)


Quality, Environmental, Safety and Health

(QuEnSH) systems


Key characteristics of composites

• low density

• high specific modulus/strength

• creep and fatigue resistance *

• durability in corrosive environments *

• ballistic resistance

* Lin Liao et al, Journal of Advanced Materials, 1998, 30(4), 3-40.

* G Pritchard, Reinforced Plastics Durability, Woodhead, 1999.

New materials

• fibres:

– basalt

– reclaimed “milled” short carbon fibres

– natural fibres

• matrix:

– bio-based resin systems

• nano-additives

• embedded sensors and biomimetics


• potential use for pultruded sections

• pulsed microwave curing giving alternating

– cured solid section

– uncured flexible sections


• Mondial House

– one half of panels removed after 33 years service

– one half of panels cleaned and polished.

• American Express, Brighton c.1977.

– structural cladding supporting glazing.

• functional formwork?


Reinforced Plastics, May 2007, 51(5), 26-29+31-33 .

Reinforced Plastics, September 2006, 50(8), 22-32 .


Experience of

(a) prefabricated housing

+ (b) naval vessels

= (c) floating, or submerged, residences to

• alleviate pressure on fertile land


• protect against flooding (Bangladesh/New Orleans)

FRP bungalow built by Charles Roberts (WY), circa 1963 (photo by JS, 2004).

HMS Wilton FRP hull built by Vosper Thornycroft circa 1970.

Housing 10 billion people

• Build

high … multi-storey building

• energy required to lift components

dry … into the desert regions

• bonded composites require no water

wet … onto or under the sea

• (as on earlier slide)

Floating infrastructures

• VISIONS Network of Excellence

– Visionary Concepts for Ships & Floating Structures

– European FP6 priority 1.6.2 sustainable transport


• free-ports

• renewable energy

• NIMBY: not in my back yard

• offshore gambling casinos

Image from:

WEGEMT Academic Contest Guidelines 2009.doc

Third world

.. and .. disaster relief

• move the village to the water or pipe the water to the village ?

• lightweight water tankers

– more water, less vehicle

• prefabricated shelters


• Earthquake containment

– over-wrapped bridge supports

– why not adopt “functional formwork” rather than do this retrospectively?

• Pipework

– in-situ-form pipe lining

• Historic structures

– Ightham Mote (National Trust)


• Several modest examples in Europe

• Some strengthening/rehab in USA

• proposed Straits of Gibraltar Bridge as a flagship project

U Meier, Proposal for a carbon fibre reinforced composite bridge across the Strait of

Gibraltar at its narrowest site,

Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers,

Part B: Management and Engineering Manufacture, 1987, 201(B2), 73-78


Need for private cars or effective public transport ?:

• dedicated elevated/tunnelled routes

 ensuring no delays

 regular and reliable service

 on-demand provision?

High speed rail-links

• Shanghai airport to centre

– 30 km in 7min 20s (advertised as 8min)

– maximum normal speed of 431 km/h (268 mph)

– … but mostly ac-/de-celerating

• flight check-in is tedious, so

• given concern over aircraft emissions the challenge is to convert domestic air

(intra-continental) to high speed rail.

Coastal defences

• University of Liverpool Department of Mathematical Science

– metamaterial “invisibility cloak” could reduce the risk of large water waves overtopping coastal defences

– need to replicate in a ‘real’ life situation to protect land from natural disasters/tsunamis, and defend structures such as oil rigs in the ocean.

M Farhat, S Enoch, S Guenneau and AB Movchan

Broadband Cylindrical Acoustic Cloak for Linear

Surface Waves in a Fluid. Physical Review Letters,

26 September 2008, 101, 134501:1-4.

Renewable energy

• Land

– hydroelectric

– wind

– geothermal

• Sea

– waves

– tidal barrage and tidal stream

– ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC)

Numerical modelling and optimal design

• Finite Element Analysis

– laminate stacking sequence

– material/structural anisotropy

• Computational Fluid Dynamics

• Genetic Algorithms

– but where is the underlying database?


• Positive:

– Sims (NPL) drove aerospace CRAG to ISO standards

• Negative:

– lack of standards for thick composites

– difficulty of addressing multiple laminate configurations/stacking sequences

– need a champion for this sector

Joints and connections

• adhesives

• pultrusions with connectors:

– Composolite ®

– Startlink

Quality, Environmental, Safety and Health (QuEnSH) systems

• Quality > ISO 9000 series

• Environment > ISO 14000 series

• Safety and Health > OHSAS 18000 series

• QuEnSH aims to integrate these systems

Quality, Environmental, Safety and Health (QuEnSH) systems

• Off-site preparation of modular systems

• Lower embodied energy

• More comprehensive

(quantitative) Life Cycle Assessment

• Embedded systems for structural health monitoring


• Composites inherently expensive?

• Move fabrication to low-wage economy

• Consider system costs, e.g.

– Autovia del Cantabrico first carbon-fibre composite bridge in Spain

– easy and quick to assemble

– completed in 10 hours using a 50 tonne crane

(equivalent structure in concrete > 400 tonne crane)

Entering the ecological age

Peter Head’s

Brunel International Lecture series for the

Institution of Civil Engineers

“Entering the ecological age: the engineer's role” heavy focus on biomimetics


Sustainability Assessment to

Overcome Barriers to Renewable Construction Materials

• NetComposites and BRE lead LINK collaborative research project funded through the renewable materials programme.

• Focus on assessing the environmental credentials of naturally derived construction materials.

• Raw material supply – including crop production and land-use

• Energy requirements for primary and secondary processing

• Durability of these naturally derived materials compared to conventional alternatives

• End of life issues including recovery/re-use, recycling, composting and disposal.

Robert Constanza

et al

• The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital

[Nature, May 1997].

• The biosphere provides us with services worth some US$33 trillion per year

- nearly double the world’s GDP!

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

• Easy to express in monetary terms:

– Agriculture and livestock, hunting, fishing, water supply, genetic resources, various chemicals

• More complex to evaluate (regulatory services):

– Carbon sequestration, atmospheric regulation, air quality, water supply, erosion, nutrient supply, regulation of pests and diseases

• Difficult to evaluate (cultural services):

– Aesthetic, artistic, educational, spiritual/religious, recreation and leisure.

• (2000)


Life Cycle Assessment (QLCA)

• acidification

• climate (global warming)

• eutrophication

• ozone

• resource depletion

• smog

• toxicity ISO14040 series

Yves Sciama:

• … in 2007 global warming managed to impose itself as a world-wide issue

- whereas biodiversity is still struggling to rise above the status of a marginal issue.

[research*EU 56 dated June 2008].

A world without bees

• strange case of vanishing western honeybee

– colony collapse disorder

• varroa mites and/or agrochemicals

– dangerously out of kilter with nature?

– the world can't survive without it:

• “no more pollination, no more plants, no more man”.

• May Berenbaum:

– “managed honey bees will cease to exist by 2035

Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum, A World Without Bees

Guardian Newspapers, June 2008. ISBN-13: 978-0852650929.

MR Berenbaum, Colony Collapse Disorder and Pollinator Decline,

US House of Representatives Committee, 29 March 2007


• as the ocean warms, the area that can support growth of algae grows smaller … driven ever closer to poles, until algal growth ceases.

Threshold for failure of the algae which actively remove CO

2 from the air is ~ 500 parts per million (ppm) which we will reach ... in about forty years.

James Lovelock, The Revenge of Gaia

Allen Lane, London, 2006.

ISBN-13: 978-0-713-99914-3

Social factors

• Skilled industry personnel

– accredited training

– higher salaries in aerospace/Formula 1?

• Educate the users

– Plymouth Civil Engineering BEng students take same 20 credit composites course as

BEng Mechanical Engineering with Composites

Key challenges

• conservatism of civil engineering industry

• price sensitivity

• absence of comprehensive

“materials” property database

• absence of design codes

• automated manufacture


• Toby Mottram, University of Warwick

• Dave Easterbrook, University of Plymouth

• Fethi Azizi, University of Plymouth

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Thank you for your attention

… any questions?