what next after Steel Age?

Innovation in engineering and construction is a factor that remains constant through changing times so much so that Stone, Bronze and Iron became the factors in determining ages of human civilisation. The way Iron replaced bronze and bronze replaced copper, steel had replaced Iron in the construction industry. So, if steel had replaced Iron, why not think that something else would replace steel. After all, this is what is evolution and innovation. Carbon fibre is one such material that is gaining popularity as a replacement for steel in reinforcement.

Carbon Fibre aka CFRP is extremely strong, light and has high tensile strength. The properties of carbon fibre, such as high stiffness, low weight, high chemical resistance, high temperature tolerance and low thermal expansion make it one of the most popular materials in civil engineering. Possessing strength up to five times that of steel and being one-third its weight, we might as well call it ‘the superhero’ of the material world.

Carbon fibre is used in strengthening structures made of concrete, steel, timber, masonry, and cast iron. It has also found applications in making of aircraft components and structures, where its superior strength to weight ratio far exceeds that of any metal. In fact, 30% of all carbon fibre is used in the aerospace industry in making of helicopters, gliders and jets.

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Carbon fibre is the new black. Think of a shiny black coffee table or bathtub or simple phone cases made of carbon fibre.

Finally, carbon fibre is extensively used in the automobile industry in making of outer bodies, etc. However, Engineers in the automotive and aerospace industries might be utilising the material to extreme limits, but R&D in architecture is moving at a snail’s pace. Adoption is slow, and of course, it is a material still in infancy the way steel was in its initial times. Carbon fibre is brittle, less likely to bend compared to steel and production costs are high. However, there is a lot of scope for innovation.

There are both limitations and opportunities for the application of carbon fibre and it is not yet a material to replace concrete or steel in particular, especially for the highly loaded and significant parts of the building. Confidence, internationally recognised standards, and frequent adoption will no doubt change that. Even today, where the option of regular inspection, maintenance, and replacement exists, CFRP façade components have a high potential for application in some areas of tall building design. Developments in the chemistry of the polymers will further enhance durability, making this application even more appealing.

There are a few more materials that are suggested as alternatives to steel. One such material is Bamboo. I will discuss it in upcoming article.

 

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