Civil engineering & the built environment

SytemFirst / Thermafoundation: Highly-insulating house foundations

University of Nottingham, Roger Bullivant Ltd

Standard trench-type foundations for houses require the largest amount of concrete of any part of the structure, which increases the house’s environmental footprint and embodied carbon emissions. Nottingham University’s Institutes of Sustainable Energy Technology and Building Technology worked with Roger Bullivant to develop ’Systemfirst’, a modular foundation and flooring system that uses less concrete and can also be integrated with low-carbon heating and heat-storage systems to reduce fuel usage.

Systemfirst flooring rests on concrete piles and is made from steel beams forming a frame for slabs of highly insulating flooring material. The components are prefabricated offsite to reduce installation time. The piles can also be used as heat exchangers for a ground-source heat pump in a system called ’Thermafoundation’ and can also be integrated with solar roof heat collection.

According to Roger Bullivant, for an 80m2 floor area house, Systemfirst reduces raw material usage from 223 tonnes to 18 tonnes, cuts water usage in building from 36,000 litres to 4,300 litres and reduces CO2 emissions from 45 tonnes to 11 tonnes.

The university’s contribution to the project, funded by two EPSRC grants, took the form of thermal design and CFD modelling, and in developing and testing the heat pump and solar roof technologies.

Tecdur Blastwall: Lighweight blast protection for buildings

Hamilton Erskine, Arup, Qinetiq, Fraunhofer Ernst Mach Institute for High Speed Dynamics

When explosions occur whether from bombs or other causes -most of the injuries and fatalities result from the damage caused by the explosion, rather than the explosion itself.

Splintered masonry and flying shards of shattered glass are the main hazards.

These tend to come not from the main structure of the buildings themselves, which tend to be made from reinforced concrete and steel that withstands blasts well, but from the secondary structure: the glazing and material used to form the walls themselves.

Northern Ireland-based security specialist Hamilton Erskine put together a consortium to address this problem and secured a grant from the European Commission’s Sixth Framework Programme to fund the undertaking.

The project developed a series of internal lightweight panels that could be retrofitted to existing buildings to protect occupants from the effects of external explosions.

Combining expertise in high-tensile-strength materials, elastomeric plastics, glazing, window-frame design and manufacture, X-ray analysis, structural engineering and blast modelling, the consortium designed panels to protect walls with and without windows.

These are pre-finished, can be cut to fit and are installed using building anchoring systems with no need for disruptive ’wet trades’ such as plastering and mortar work.

The system can protect against explosions the size of car bombs with a stand-off as little as 15m and has been patented in the UK, US and Europe.

Hydrascan: trenchless pigging for water main cleaning

Hydrascan, Northumbrian Water

Making the task of cleaning water mains simpler and cheaper was the driver behind this project, involving pipeline cleaning equipment company Hydrascan and the utility Northumbrian Water.

Water mains are cleaned of deposits of aluminium, manganese and iron by machines known as pigs, which are passed through the pipe, cleaning the walls as they go, but Hydrascan’s Typhoon system uses a new type of design that requires fewer roadworks to reach the main and is more versatile than standard pigs.

Hydrascan's innovative Typhoon pipe-cleaning device
Hydrascan’s innovative Typhoon pipe-cleaning device

To clean a stretch of mains piping, access pits normally need to be dug at both ends of the stretch and a pig lowered in, pulled across to the other pit by a winch, and then winched back.

The Hydrascan pig is propelled by a high-pressure water jet and needs only one access pit; it can be ’fired’ in either direction and winched back, with the water switched to fan jets scouring the inside of the pipe as it goes.

Because it is only winched in one direction, the fan jets can also be pointed in front of the pig, allowing it to clean the valve faces at either end of the isolated stretch of mains piping.

Northumbrian Water ran a series of trials of new pigging devices and opened up live water mains piping for tests. Hydrascan built a 36in-diameter pig in three months, testing it in a stretch of bitumen-lined pipeline containing bends in different directions.

The device has now been developed to a point where its water-jet can propel it 500m, allowing it to clean a kilometre of mains piping with a single excavation.