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Amazing new spray-on cement could help old buildings survive earthquakes

Earthquakes can cause massive amounts of devastation. Using modern building materials and designs, architects have created a number of impressively reinforced buildings around the world which are able to survive quakes that would level many structures. However, what can you do to earthquake-proof an existing building? That’s a question that civil engineering researchers at the University of British Columbia, under the leadership of Professor Nemkumar Banthia, took on in a recent project.

As a result of the researcht, they’ve developed a brand-new type of concrete, which can be sprayed onto walls, and will successfully protect buildings from being damaged in the event of even major quakes. This is possible thanks to a fiber-reinforced design which allows the concrete to bend, rather than fracture, when it is violently shaken. In simulation tests, the “eco-friendly ductile cementitious composite” (EDCC) was able to withstand an earthquake with a magnitude equal to the 9.0 – 9.1 quake that hit Tohoku, Japan back in 2011.

Seismic-resistant concrete spray

“We sprayed a number of walls with a 10-millimeter thick layer of EDCC, which is sufficient to reinforce most interior walls against seismic shocks,” Salman Soleimani-Dashtaki, a civil engineering PhD candidate, who worked on the project, said in a statement. “Then we subjected them to Tohoku-level quakes and other types and intensities of earthquakes and we couldn’t break them.”

The strong-but-malleable material the UBC researchers developed is likened to steel in terms of many of its properties, but actually takes advantage of polymer-based fibers, industrial additives, and an industrial byproduct called flyash. Flyash makes the material environmentally friendly, too, since it reduces the amount of cement required — thereby helping cut down on the amount of carbon dioxide released into the environment as a byproduct of cement manufacturing.

Next up, the researchers plan to use it to treat the walls of Vancouver’s Dr. Annie B. Jamieson Elementary School, as well as a school in northern India. (The research was funded by the Canada-India Research Center of Excellence IC-IMPACTS, which promotes research collaboration between Canada and India.) In the future, the hope is that the material can be used in a variety of applications — including homes, pipelines, pavements, offshore platforms, and more.

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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