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Professor Touts Future of 'Bendable' Concrete

Friday, June 1, 2018

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A University of Michigan professor who specializes in engineered cementitious composite says the so-called “bendable concrete” could be the key to infrastructure that lasts, including bridges that better resist damage due to seismic activity.

Bendable concrete
Victor Li, CC BY-ND

University of Michigan professor Victor Li notes that engineered cementitious composite could solve many of the issues with traditional concrete that cause it to fail.

Victor Li, director of the Advanced Civil Engineering Materials Research Lab at the university, recently published an article on academic website The Conversation explaining his work with ECC and its potential uses in building more resilient infrastructure and buildings. (Li also owns a consulting firm that works with ECC technology.)

Li explains that so many of the problems that lead to catastrophic failures in concrete structures relate to inflexibility and lack of tensile strength. Brittle concrete will begin to crack, leading to bigger problems if the problem isn’t addressed quickly.

Inspired by Nature

Li’s ECC is a concrete mixture that draws on the elastic polymer in nacre, the material inside a mollusk’s shell. The ECC mixture includes tiny fibers that imitate the flexibility of nacre, Li explains. The result is a material with 300 to 400 times more tensile strain capacity than traditional concrete.

ECC has been in use experimentally for years, including in applications on Michigan bridges, where ECC link slabs are used in lieu of expansion joints. ECC has been used in building tall buildings in Japan as well.

ECC is also self-healing, Li says, with exposure to air and water shoring up small cracks when they do form in the material.

Li notes that challenges to the widespread adoption of ECC as a building material include “a good supply chain and intelligent use of the material to optimize cost economics,” as well as wider acceptance among structural engineers, who are accustomed to traditional concrete and its uses and limitations.


Tagged categories: Colleges and Universities; concrete; Research and development

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