While many new buildings in earthquake-prone areas are built to withstand at least moderate shaking, older buildings can collapse like a house of cards in a matter of seconds in the event of a severe quake.
With this in mind, a research team at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in southern Germany has developed a new material that helps strengthen buildings, protecting them from earthquake damage.
In most cases, work on strengthening old and weak buildings in quake-prone regions is a time-consuming and costly affair, but thanks to the work of Lothar Stempniewski and Moritz Urban, their newly developed glass fiber plastic composite material allows for relatively cheap reinforcement work that can be carried out quickly and easily
Called Sisma Calce (Italian for Earthquake Lime), the revolutionary material has recently been commercialized by the Italian building material manufacturer Röfix.
The fabric has four fiber directions that gives it high stiffness and extreme tensile strength. The material is plastered onto the exterior walls of a building, which in the event of a major tremor will help prevent small cracks developing into life-threatening structural damage.
“The stabilizing deformation behavior contributes to a better reduction of the energy introduced into the walls through the horizontal forces of the earthquake’s acceleration forces,” Stempniewski and Urban explained on the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology’s website.
The pair said that while the material may not keep a building intact in the event of a serious quake, it will give those inside the building more time to make their escape. Of course, as the developers point out, the ideal scenario would be for the material to keep the building in one piece, leaving the need for only minor repairs.
”Thanks to the reinforcement [created by the material], collapsing of walls due to earthquakes can be delayed and, in the ideal case, be avoided completely,” Stempniewski said, adding, “In the case of a catastrophe, much can be achieved if only we succeed in reinforcing and protecting critical infrastructures such as hospitals, schools, or rest homes.”
The real beauty of Sisma Calce is that it can be applied easily and at low cost – something which could appeal to poorer quake-prone countries whose governments find the cost of traditional building-strengthening work prohibitive.