New SoFSI facility ready for infrastructure shake up

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A new UK facility called SoFSI, featuring deep soil pits and shaking tables, is set to help reduce both the financial and environmental cost of vital infrastructure.

The Soil-Foundation-Structure Interaction (SoFSI) laboratory, based at the University of Bristol’s Langford Campus to the south of the city, is claimed to be the first of its kind in the world. Backed by £12m in funding from EPSRC, SoFSI will allow researchers to explore how infrastructure such as bridges, windfarms and rail projects like HS2 interact with the ground when subjected to dynamic loads.

SoFSI
(Credit: University of Bristol)

Equipment at the facility includes a 6m x 5m x 4m soil pit, a 50-ton capacity biaxial shaking table for dynamic testing of structures, as well as a smaller, high-performance, six-axis shaking table. It will be run by the UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC), an academic consortium made up of 13 of the UK’s leading universities, including Bristol. Initial research at SoFSI will focus on five key areas: nuclear power plant soil-structure interaction, high speed rail, offshore wind turbines, monopiles and pile groups, and integral bridges.

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“Ensuring the long-term safety of critical infrastructure is paramount, particularly when it comes to building nuclear power stations or high-speed rail,” said Anastasios Sexos, Professor of Earthquake Engineering at Bristol University.

“The aim of this testing facility is to inform design that is not only safer but also cost-efficient. Investigating how buildings and infrastructure interact with the ground under natural and man-made hazards allows us to improve the smartness and resiliency of our infrastructure while at a lower financial cost and a reduced environmental footprint.”

The large-scale test lab will allow both academic researchers and industry to explore how foundations, dynamic loading and soil interact so they can identify more efficient building methods and improve the safety of future infrastructure. It is also claimed that research at SoFSI will inform the design of smart solutions to improve the resilience of such infrastructure as well as helping to reduce construction costs.

“At the University of Bristol, we’re investing in state-of-the-art testing facilities that will help cut the cost of building the infrastructure of the future,” said Dr Flavia De Luca, Senior Lecturer in Structural and Earthquake Engineering at the university.

“For example, high speed rail will require many new bridges to cross waterways, roads, and other rail lines. SoFSI has been designed to help us understand, among other issues, how the span of lower cost, minimal maintenance integral bridges can be extended so that new high speed railway lines would be faster to construct, cheaper to maintain, more resilient to climate change, and enable us to minimise resource requirements.”

SoFSI is due to open on Thursday, January 22nd.