Mohammed Farooq, a PhD candidate in the civil engineering department at the University of British Columbia (UBC), has been testing ways to optimize the composition of fibre-reinforced polymer (FRP).
FRP, which is resistant to corrosion or deterioration and can be used to reinforce concrete used in construction, is "the material of the future," said Farooq.
"Because it's light and can operate at least as well as conventional steel and aluminum, FRP is often used on the repair of bridges and buildings."
FRP fibres are as strong as steel and almost as stiff as concrete, Farooq said.
"Because steel corrodes, it poses major risks to infrastructure assets," Farooq said.
"Until now, most polymeric fibres have failed to perform like steel fibres."
He said his research has borne fruit.
"The results have shown a superior bond between cement and FRP fibres compared to the popular polymeric fibres, and at par with the most widely used steel fibres," he said.
FRP fibres can be tailored to maximize compatibility with concrete in such severe environments as marine structures, oil rigs, mines and tunnels.
Farooq has been doing his research in UBC civil engineering's SIERA (Sustainable InfrastructurE ReseArch) group.
Founded in 2013 by Dr. Nemkumar Banthia, the small organization contains three faculty members and 20 Masters and PhD students.
"SIERA is composed of people who have come together to work towards a common goal of making infrastructure sustainable," said Banthia, who is SIERA's group leader.
"We work with many local and international companies in different areas of sustainable infrastructure."
SIERA gets part of its funding from an organization called IC-IMPACTS, (India-Canada Centre for Innovative Multidisciplinary Partnerships to Accelerate Community Transformation and Sustainability), of which Banthia is the science director.
IC-IMPACTS does research on quality of life issues in Canada and India such as poor water quality, unsafe and unsustainable infrastructure and poor health from water-borne and infectious diseases.
IC-IMPACTS is made up of UBC, the University of Alberta, the University of Toronto and 11 post-secondary Indian institutions.
SIERA doctoral candidate Salman Soleimani-Dashtaki has developed what he calls a "new concept of concrete" that can protect masonry walls during a seismic event.
Called EDCC, the material is a sprayable eco-friendly ductile cementitious composite. It can be applied by hand, pump or hopper to a masonry wall, enabling it to bend and deform without cracking, like regular cement, during a seismic event.
"It's ductible, bendable and thin," said Soleimani-Dashtaki. "It's only 10 to 20 millimetres thick, but it behaves more like steel than concrete."
In addition, EDCC is very eco-friendly, he said. Containing a high volume of non-oil coated recycled polymer-based fibre, it has a cement content of only 30 per cent.
And it has a high volume of industrial byproducts, such as ashes and silica fumes.
"The composite is very cost-effective, because using it means masonry walls don't need to be removed during a seismic retrofit," Soleimani-Dashtaki said.
EDCC has become an official retrofit option in the B.C. Ministry of Education's school seismic retrofit program.
"The product will be sprayed onto the basement partition walls of a Vancouver school this fall, and potentially three more B.C. schools in the retrofit program," Soleimani-Dashtaki said.
Brigitte Goffin has been testing non-destructive methods to detect corrosion of epoxy-coated rebar (ECR), which is used in North America on bridge decks.
Goffin said an intact epoxy coating prevents corrosion of rebar by creating a barrier between the steel and de-icing salts and water in the pore structure of the concrete.
"But the epoxy coating is often damaged during transportation and placement, which results in localized corrosion of the reinforcing steel," said Goffin. "Detecting this corrosion non-destructively poses a challenge."
Goffin has been testing electrochemical, electromagnetic and thermal testing methods.
"The best method is probably a combination of several different techniques, because testing results have not always been unambiguously clear," Goffin said.
Ricky Ratu is investigating ways to bond polypropylene (PP) fibre with concrete to make fibre-reinforced concrete.
"Polypropolene fibre is low-cost and non-corrosive, which gives it an advantage over other kinds of fibre," Ratu said.
But PP fibre bonds poorly with concrete and Ratu has been researching ways to modify it so that it performs better.
"We coated PP chips with a small amount of silica fume, and heated it up to produce modified fibre," he said.
"Then we added it to concrete and tested its bonding performance, which we found to be significantly better."
Ratu is continuing his research, and hopes to develop a commercial concrete product that can be used in heavy-duty applications.