Engineers just built the world’s tallest ice tower in China — here’s how

In September 2017, we wrote about a group of Dutch student engineers with the crazy, improbable dream of traveling to China to build a record-breaking, 100-foot high tower made of ice. Oh, and it was going to less than 10 inches thick, too. It sounded awesome, if incredibly ambitious, and we wished them the best of luck on their quest. Jump forward less than six months, and the team has not only completed its objective — it has done so with flying colors.

A collaboration between students and professors in China and the Netherlands, the so-called Flamenco Ice Tower was recently created in the Chinese city of Harbin, home to a famous international ice and snow sculpture festival. The team refers to its creation as the “world’s largest ice shell,” although it’s not created from the kind of pure ice you will find lining your freezer.

“For years we have been doing research at the University of Technology Eindhoven in fiber-reinforced ice,” Yaron Moonen, a graduate student from the University of Technology Eindhoven’s department of structural design and construction technology, told Digital Trends. “By adding cellulose fibers, we can make a building material that is up to three times stronger and way more ductile than normal ice. Together with our building method we can create enormous ice shells and shapes with this material. We use inflatable molds which [are] sprayed layer by layer with fiber reinforced ice. When the shell is thick enough, the inflatable is removed revealing a stand-alone ice structure.”

That’s the process that was followed for creating the team’s ice tower in China. The advantages it has over other building materials include the facts that it is cheap, speedy, and uses only sustainable building materials that can be locally produced — since they are just water and fibers.

“Working in these conditions is hard and challenging,” Moonen said, describing the biggest challenge of the build. “For instance, it is very important that the flow of material in the hoses never stops. At [the freezing temperatures we were working at], it only takes half a minute for a whole length of hose to freeze if the mass stops moving. The delay after such a fault can add up to a long time. So it is very important that the process never stops and keeps on going, 24/7.”

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