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Engineers Use Hemp to Repair KY Bridges

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

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Recently, students from the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Kentucky were reported to use hemp as an experimental construction material for bridge repair.

The biodegradable material was added to the university’s existing product, CatStrong.

Bridge Repair Research

Back in 2011, UK.’s College of Engineering was reported to have developed carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer rod panels (CRP) for the repair and strengthening of damaged bridge beams. The development was funded by the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation.

The university reports that currently, the CatStrong rod panels and fabrics come in all different strengths—the strongest being able to resist 195,000 pounds per foot of width—and can be applied by one worker.

When completing a repair job, first the affected structural member has to be built back to its original shape, then engineers from UK create a two-part resin or paste and apply it to the affected surface, press CatStrong into it, followed by another later of the two-part mixture. The application is reported to give the repaired piece 80% of its strength back within 24 hours.

“The CatStrong family of products were developed to meet the repair needs of bridges when no other products were available on the market that satisfy the retrofit requirements," said Issam Harik, a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at UK.

"All CatStrong products are tested experimentally and/or via computer models in order to assess their strengths and limitations."

Since the development, CatStrong has been used to successfully restore 35 bridges by strengthening beams, columns, piles and walls.

New Resources

Through the years of producing the repair materials, UK has worked to find more reliable resources to incorporate into its family of products. Its most recent endeavor? The hemp industry.

The biodegradable material is reported to have a small carbon footprint and offers many advantages.

However, Harik points out that the "limitations are low strength, incompatibility with existing resins, manufacturing processes and it is seasonable.” But that some of these limitations can be overcome through future research.

As part of the experimental study, the material was used by the team in repairing one of the piles on the KY 32 bridge over Blaine Creek in Lawrence County, Kentucky. The repair was the first time the natural fiber was used as a construction material for bridge repair.

In future experiments, the university intends to incorporate CatStrong with plant-based resins, instead of epoxy, in order to produce entirely plant-based biodegradable, flexible, lightweight and re-useable wraps.

"The lessons learned from each project are used in future projects to upgrade and extend the life of bridges and buildings," Harik said. "None of the success achieved in these repair projects would have been possible without collaboration between UK, sponsoring agencies and industry."

Research for the repair methods was funded by the Department of Defense, the Federal Highway Administration, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, The National Academies and the Kentucky Science and Engineering Foundation.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Building materials; Coating Materials; Colleges and Universities; Hemp; NA; North America; Rehabilitation/Repair; Repair materials; Research; Research and development

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