On the road to Bendable Concrete

On the road to Bendable Concrete

Concrete is a great material for roads. It’s strong, durable, reliable and sustainable. But it has its flaws.

Typical concrete comprises cement, water, gravel and sand. While this mixture makes concrete hard and strong, it does not promote flexibility. Thus concrete can be brittle and prone to cracks if too much weight is applied. Just have a look at any old suburb road and you’ll see what we mean.

But now scientists from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have announced they have invented a new type of concrete, that is bendable yet stronger and longer lasting than regular concrete and allows the creation of slim precast pavement slabs for quick installation, halving the time needed for road works and new pavements. They also say the new, fibre-enforced concrete is more sustainable, requiring less maintenance.

The new type of concrete can considerably reduce the thickness and weight of precast pavement slabs, enabling speedy plug-and-play installation, where new concrete slabs prepared off-site can easily replace worn out ones.

The new concrete is specifically engineered to have certain types of hard materials mixed with polymer microfibers. The inclusion of these special synthetic fibres, besides allowing the concrete to flex and bend under tension, also enhances skid resistance.

Whereas fibre-reinforced concrete is nothing new, the key breakthrough here was understanding how the components of the materials interact with one another mechanically on a microscopic level. With this knowledge the scientists can then deliberately select ingredients and engineer the tailoring of components, so the final material can fulfil specific requirements needed for road and pavement applications.

The scientists say the hard materials give a non-slip surface texture while the microfibres, which are thinner than the width of a human hair, distribute the load across the whole slab, resulting in a concrete that is tough as metal and at least twice as strong as conventional concrete under bending.

So far, the bendable concrete has only been tested in tablet-sized slabs at NTU’s laboratories, but the results are encouraging. In the next stages the concrete will be scaled up for further testing over the next three years, to see how the material holds up to both pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

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