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University Designs Lighter, Greener Bridge

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

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Recently, engineers from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Technical University of Denmark, with COWI, an international consulting group, have completed research on reducing materials used in suspension bridge decks.

The research has since been published in Nature Communications by Industrial PhD DTU Civil Engineer, Mads Jacob Baandrup; Associate Professor Niels Aage, DTU Mechanical Engineering; Professor Ole Sigmund, DTU Mechanical Engineering; and Technical Director Henrik Polk, COWI.

Conducted as a response to accommodate a request for longer bridge construction—as DTU reports its been roughly 60 years since the girder design for suspension bridges has been changed—the team studied how the structures could be optimized to reduce the weight of the bridge deck, particularly by increasing the span.

Technical University of Denmark

Recently, engineers from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Technical University of Denmark, with COWI, have completed research on reducing materials used in suspension bridge decks.

“We applied different methods for examining how to better utilize materials, which primarily consist of steel and concrete,” said Jacob Baandrup, who carried out the analyses in connection with his PhD project and currently works as engineer in COWI's bridges department.

Using topology optimization, the team developed transverse diaphragms in the bridge which both optimized the use of steel and concrete in traditional structures, while also reducing the weight by up to 14%.

“In popular terms, it’s about ‘emptying’ a bridge girder of its existing elements, providing complete freedom for choosing a new design,” said Aage. “The inner volume of the bridge girder is then divided into a structure of very small voxels (3D pixels), like small dice. The topology optimization method is then used for determining whether each individual voxel should consist of air or steel material. The result is a bridge girder design that uses the least possible steel without impairing the strength of the structure.”

Using a supercomputer, the team was able to divide bridge elements into voxels—each not much bigger than a few centimeters. Once interpreted, the computer calculation presented input for how to best structure the design space of the bridge deck, suggesting curving the traditionally straight transverse diaphragms, among others, to reduce materials used and CO2 emissions generated by construction.

Of the findings, Polk said, “The new bridge girder design can be converted into a weight and CO2 reduction of up to 20% for the entire bridge, which of course benefits the climate.”

Currently, DTU reports that the construction industry is responsible for 39% of the world’s CO2 emissions.

While additional analysis will be required before the team and finalize a new design method, they expect that further studies of the proposed design, as well as applications to other structures, will lead to even greater weight savings and reductions in carbon footprint.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Colleges and Universities; Design build; Engineers; Environmental Controls; EU; Europe; Infrastructure; Research; Research and development

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