The World's First Concrete Building Reinforced with Carbon Fiber

by Tencom Ltd.

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Pic Credit: Composites Manufacturing  

Fiber Reinforced Polymer (FRP) composites are being used across many sectors including construction and infrastructure. 

You can find them in hydraulic bridges and structural supports. They are even used as sunshades for multi-story buildings.

However, the most recent groundbreaking application for FRP composite materials can be seen on the Technical University campus in Dresden, Germany.

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Known as Carbonhaus, this concrete building lays claim to being the first in the world to be reinforced by carbon fiber.

Carbonhaus

Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Carbonhaus cost approximately 5 million euro ($5.63 million) to create.

This two-story building is constructed out of carbon fiber reinforced concrete and spans across 2,200sq ft. What makes it even more unique is that the 24m length concrete is virtually seamless.

The design is made possible due to the precast box shape and the lightweight, pliable roof that features a double-curved “twist” style. Inside, the new building offers a laboratory, a classroom, and a kitchen.

The idea was to avoid heavy materials and find something that would withstand the test of time. This is where FRP composites come into play. Petroleum-based polyacrylonitrile (PAN) was used during the pultrusion process to create a carbon fiber material that would offer the same tensile strength as steel but at a fraction of the weight.

Because most of the concrete used in buildings is only there to protect the steel reinforcements from corrosion, the engineers wanted to create a material that would work in tandem with concrete.

They also wanted to prove how sustainable this method of construction is by using less concrete to create a durable, structurally-sound building. As an added bonus, the FRP composite materials can also help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 70%.

While some may speculate that FRP composites are too expensive to use in various construction projects, the results at Carbonhaus were just the opposite.

In fact, the price for concrete that has been reinforced by carbon fiber is approximately $13 to $15 per kg, which is about the same price as steel reinforcements. This production cost includes manufacturing, transportation, labor, and equipment.

A Slow Evolution

There isn’t another industry out there that is more stuck in its ways than the construction industry.

Even though the benefits of FRP composites are clear and vastly outweigh any benefits of traditional materials like steel, aluminum, and wood, the construction industry moves at a glacial pace when it comes to adopting new materials.

This is mainly because of building codes and regulations that are currently set in stone.

In order to bring in a wave of change with greener, lightweight FRP composite materials, these existing regulations would need to undergo a total overhaul.

Experts Barzin Mobasher, a professor at Arizona State University at the School of Sustainable Engineering, and Manfred Curbach, the director at the Institute of Concrete Construction at Technical University in Germany, both have high hopes for the use of FRP composites throughout the construction industry.

However, they also both agree that the transition will take some time to gain traction, especially in the United States.

As of now, FRP composites in the U.S. are mostly used to repair damaged infrastructure quickly and efficiently.

Carbon Fiber Reinforced Concrete

Although we touched on this briefly, concrete that has been reinforced by carbon fiber is somewhat like a matrix. This FRP composite product features carbon fiber for stiffness and strength as well as polymers to hold those fibers together.

This type of composition is used to help increase the lifespan of the material and reduce the need for excessive concrete.

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Pic Credit: bcdnetwork.com

In the case of Carbonhaus, petroleum-based polyacrylonitrile was created from an organic polymer known as lignin. This polymer is derived from the waste produced during paper manufacturing.

It’s also worth noting that the Technical University in Munich, Germany has also been experimenting with carbon fiber composites derived from algae oil.

Creating Curves

The twisted roof design of Carbonhaus is yet another example of just how flexible and pliable FRP composite materials are. The basic box shape of buildings is a thing of the past.

Now, engineers and architects can create stunning, curved works of architecture that will leave spectators in awe. This can be achieved by using FRP composites.

One significant building that serves as a prime example of this design freedom is Wolfe Campus, formerly known as Apple Campus 3. Located in Cupertino, CA, this unique building features the world’s largest carbon fiber roof.

Even more impressive is that this roof boasts a floating style that makes it look like it’s straight out of a science fiction film.

Curvy FRP composites can also be seen in the automotive industry with the creation of the first curved carbon fiber bumper. Fitted to the new Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, this aerodynamic piece was created using carbon fiber and urethane acrylate resin.

The Future of FRP Composites

Now that we are seeing more applications of FRP composites throughout numerous industries, many people are left with anticipation for the future.

As regulations evolve over time and pultruded products become greener and more affordable, our experts here at Tencom have no doubt that the usage of FRP composite materials will soar. We may even see these materials being used in residential homes in the future.

Eventually, FRP composites may make their way into the construction of homes in cities that are more susceptible to natural disasters such as hurricanes.

Due to the resistance to moisture, rust, corrosion, heat, impact, and other natural elements, FRP composite materials simply make sense for building safer, long-lasting communities in high-risk areas.

Talk to Us

If you are interested to know more about pultruded products, talk to us. Get in touch with our team of specialists today. We can help you create custom FRP composites pieces for your next project.

You can choose exactly what sort of pieces you need and even have pigments added to the resin mixture for color or patterns.

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