‘Toolkit’ to prove lifetime of composites for building

Warwick University is leading a project to assess the durability of composite materials in civil structures.

It is widely believed that composite structures have greater durability than other construction materials because they do not corrode. However, before they can be become a common feature in buildings engineers need to be able to predict how long structures will be fit for purpose.

Prof Toby Mottram of the School of Engineering at Warwick University told The Engineer, ‘Durability is only something you discover with time…Fibre reinforced polymer (FRP) structures that are out there are designed — or over-designed — because we don’t know how they’re going to perform in the field.

‘Rather than building prototypes and learning from failure, which is historically how we’ve learned with most materials and building systems, this [project] is a way of overcoming that.’

Warwick will provide a toolkit that that combines experiment-based testing methodology together with advanced computational techniques using multiscale FEA plus real liability methods linking to climate changes.

Mottram explained that this will help predict the performance of a composite material against the environment it is built in and that testing will focus on joints and connections on a range of materials including those made through pultrusion.

Looking forward Mottram said the toolkit could be used to verify natural and biocomposite materials.

‘If these materials come along — so the processing is there, the cost is there and the basic mechanical properties are there — you could use this tool kit to establish quickly…if they have a future in the construction industry.’

The three-year Duracomp project is being undertaken in consortium with the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds and Newcastle with EPSRC funding worth £1.3m.