A group consisting of five of the UK’s top university engineering faculties has been awarded a $1.9 million grant by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to explore the durability of high-tech composite materials used in the aerospace and automotive industries in an effort to discover their potential use for infrastructure and civil engineering works.
The consortium is being led by the University of Warwick and also includes the University of Bath, the University of Bristol, the University of Glasgow, the University of Leeds and Newcastle University. The grant is part of a total of $6.9 million awarded by EPSRC for ground and structural engineering projects.
Composite materials have been commonly used in the mechanical engineering sectors because of their strength, rigidity and light weight. For these reasons, they are hoped to offer new and exciting possibilities for infrastructure and building projects, particularly in bridges and low-rise buildings.
Before they can be used in this new way, however, engineers need be able to accurately predict how long into the future the structures will be fit for purpose once built.
The project, entitled Providing Confidence in Durable Composites, will carry out physical testing of composite materials, structural connections and joints, and will aim to develop computer models of their behaviour over decades.
“High-performance, light-weight composites have transformed sectors like automotive and aerospace and there is real potential that they could do the same for infrastructure,” said professor Toby Mottram of the School of Engineering at the University of Warwick said.
“But as buildings and bridges have to be designed to last longer into the future than cars or aeroplanes, we need to understand exactly how their structural performance will change with age and to possible climate changes.”
Mottram added that the deliverables from the grant will assist the consortium in estabilishing the durability of the materials in question through computer modelling and the collection of experimental data.
EPSRC chief executive, professor David Delpy, noted that the research was extremely important for its long-term potential.
“These grants will support vital underpinning research that will help deliver major infrastructure projects and help us plan maintenance in the context of climate change,” he said.
“Likewise, developing new composites and self-healing materials will help us prolong the life and integrity of new buildings as well as enabling the retrofitting of older ones.”