Fibreglass fabric could protect old buildings from earthquakes

Researchers in Germany have developed a fibreglass fabric that can be attached to old buildings to try to protect them from earthquakes.

The seismic fabric developed at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is designed to strengthen walls to prevent cracks from forming in them during an earthquake but can also prevent them from collapsing even if damage does occur.

‘Thanks to the reinforcement, collapsing of walls due to earthquakes can be delayed and, in the ideal case, be avoided completely,’ said the material’s co-designer Moritz Urban in a statement.

‘Particularly in the case of short and moderate earthquakes, mostly not much more additional tensile strength is needed to avoid a collapse of the building.’

The simple design of the fabric, which can be retrofitted using appropriate plaster, means it can be easily added to a wide range of buildings together with insulation, said Urban’s research partner, Lothar Stempniewski.

‘In the case of a catastrophe, much can be achieved if only we succeed in reinforcing and protecting critical infrastructures such as hospitals, schools, or rest homes,’ he said.

According to KIT, the high stiffness and tensile strength of the glass fibres, which run in four directions, reduces the higher tensile stresses that occur in walls during earthquakes, helping to avoid damage that can develop into cracks.

If the glass fibres rupture during a heavy earthquake, the elastic polypropylene fibres in the fabric can reportedly hold the broken wall segments together, which could help give people inside the building more time to escape.

The researchers worked with Dr Günther Kast GmbH & Co, a manufacturer of technical tissues, to commercialise the product. It is now being sold under the brand name Sisma Calce by Italian building material manufacturer Röfix.

Stempniewski now intends to investigate similar solutions for concrete buildings.

‘The challenge in the case of concrete is the higher force that must be absorbed,’ he said. ‘We thus test new materials such as carbon fibres. In doing so, we at the same time lay the foundations for future innovations to be developed by KIT.’