Building better

Building better

How new technology is boosting the lifespan of large-scale infrastructure
May 29, 2014

The ISIS Canada Research Network has a simple but ambitious mission: to ensure that Canada is a world leader in civil engineering.

Based at the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg, ISIS Canada works to improve bridges and other key large-scale structures through the use of new materials and designs. The network coordinates the efforts of 185 researchers representing 14 Canadian universities and other government and industry partners who are working to improve infrastructure through the use of fibre-reinforced polymers (FRPs) — a very strong composite material usually made up of glass, carbon, basalt or aramid (a strong, heat-resistant synthetic fibre).

“We’re creating infrastructure that lasts for 100 years instead of just 50 years,” says ISIS Canada president Aftab Mufti, a civil engineering professor at the University of Manitoba. Steel has traditionally been used to stabilize large concrete structures, but that has always been a problem, explains Mufti, because it eventually corrodes, weakening the surrounding concrete in the process. “We need to move to fibre-reinforced materials,” he says. “They won’t corrode and are very strong in terms of tensile strength.”

Commonly used for applications in the space industry because of their strength and durability, FRPs are extremely promising for use in infrastructure for the same reasons. They are economical, both financially, in terms of life-cycle costing, and environmentally, since they are lighter to transport than steel. They are also electromagnetically immune, which means they can be used in conjunction with fibre optic sensing systems.

Through the work of Mufti and other researchers at ISIS Canada, there is now a much greater use of FRP materials for rehabilitating, repairing and stabilizing concrete structures, resulting in a 50 percent cost savings over conventional methods. ISIS Canada technology has been used on bridges, such as the spans over Manitoba’s Red River Floodway and the Confederation Bridge linking New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Today, Canada is a leader in this area, proving the benefits of these methods in projects large and small.