Developing more durable infrastructure materials to help the public and private sectors save money and reduce their environmental impact is the focus of new civil engineering research at Leeds.
New facilities and funding worth £4.5 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council provide the opportunity to examine the life cycle of materials in different environments to understand their behaviour.
The properties of many materials used for infrastructure work will be studied – including cement, concrete and steel – but also other metals, masonry, asphalt, timber, glass and plastics.
Researchers will look at new materials such as alternative cements and bio-based plastics which require less energy and raw materials to produce.
The research will be carried out through the Centre for Infrastructure Materials, a new joint project between the University of Leeds, Imperial College London and the University of Manchester. It is one of 14 new national research centres which together form the £125 million UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC)
In Leeds the centre will be led by Dr Leon Black from the School of Civil Engineering. The research focus will be on the effects on materials as they age over a range of scales in space and time.
This will vary from nano-scale through to life-sized structures, and from rapidly accelerated ageing in environmental chambers to long-term monitoring.
Breadth of research
The centre will also include facilities to study geo-energy and robotic systems which could investigate infrastructure where humans cannot work. This includes 3D laser scanning and taking samples from difficult-to-access structures.
The University’s Multi-Axis Shake Table will be co-located with the centre so researchers can study how earthquakes affect the viability of construction materials.
Next generation materials
Dr Black said: “By developing the next generation of infrastructure materials, we will help reduce the £50 billion-plus annual spend in the UK on infrastructure maintenance and repair, much of which is due to failure of materials. We also need to know how existing materials will perform over their lifespan.”
Barry Clarke, Professor of Civil Engineering Geotechnics, who is also involved in the project said: “The objective is to build effective partnerships between the people who research infrastructure, the people who operate it, the people who fund it and those who actually build it.”
The national centre builds on Leeds' long-standing reputation for leading research in cement and concrete, built on the work of the late Professor Adam Neville, author of the highly regarded book Properties of Concrete. The University is due to launch a new centre of excellence in concrete studies, named after Professor Neville, in October.
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