Concrete is one of the most commonplace construction materials in the world. Cheap, strong and easily made, concrete allows cities to reach the sky, builds levies to hold back flood waters, and bridges to help roads stretch across the land.
Concrete technology dates back as far as the ancient Romans. Today, it is still mixed with the same three ingredients the ancients used: water, cement binder and gravel. When gravel is mined from a hillside, it is made up of boulders and cobblestones. On its surface, concrete hardly seems like the substance of innovation. But in fact, it’s an example of how the innovation process sometimes works, whereby a scientist, engineer or inventor makes an important discovery and then must figure out how it can be used to make improvements.
One such engineer at the State University of New York at Buffalo is using an innovative process to turn this old mixture into a new technology. Professor Deborah Chung, funded by the National Science Foundation, has invented a new composite material by adding a new material to concrete: carbon fibers. Carbon fibers conduct electricity and consist of strands of the carbon atom. By adding carbon fibers to concrete, Professor Chung was able to add electrical impulses to the concrete structure. The fibers conduct electrical impulses, making the concrete able to have electrical resistance change in response to damage or defamation, effectively making the concrete a sensor.
This new invention allows construction of smart concrete structures, able to detect even minute changes in the amount of stress inside. This new composite material is able to self-monitor for signs of cracks or stress. Historically, human inspection has been required to check concrete structures such as skyscrapers, bridges and car parking garages. What’s more, inspectors must look for signs of fractures after they have already occurred; what’s really needed is a way to automatically monitor concrete stress in real time.
With smart concrete, scientists are able to measure the precise amount that the concrete deforms as it is exposed to massive amounts of weight. As pressure is applied to the slab of concrete it becomes compressed and the electrical properties of the slab change, causing it to become slightly more conductive as the electrical resistance decreases under pressure. The quality of the contact between the fiber and the cement is impacted a great deal in terms of how effective the fiber influences the conductivity of the cement. With the ability to monitor the hidden stressors within to a very precise degree, smart concrete may be able to lead engineers to troubleshoot weak spots in their structures long before a crack is ever visible to the human eye.
While smart concrete has not yet made it to market, engineers welcome the new innovation. Possible uses of smart concrete include:
- traffic monitoring,
- border monitoring,
- weighing in motion, and
- building security.
In addition, smart concrete is expected to be used for building facility management, i.e. to weigh each room of a building to monitor the room occupancy in real time, thereby saving money and energy by allowing the lighting, heating, cooling and ventilation of the room to be controlled according to the occupancy level.
Construction materials that can be used for detection, such as smart concrete, are very innovative. The discovery of smart concrete is an example of how modern technology, combined with an innovative approach, can enhance material that has been used for centuries.
There is an enormous amount of risk in construction. The professionals at MMA Mid-Atlantic understand the complexities of the bonding marketplace, and can effectively find solutions to meet your needs.
Contact us today to learn more.