Univ. of Bristol Studies Composite Materials Bridge Structures

Nancy Anderson
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Research undertaken at the University of Bristol seeks to quantify the advantages of using advanced composite materials in the construction of bridge decking and roadways. Composite materials have been used in aircraft and automobiles for decades, but little to no information has been available on how these materials perform under the sorts of loads experienced by roadways during their lifetime. In addition, roadways have to contend with weathering conditions unlike those experienced by vehicles, and so Dr. Wendel Sebastian conducts his study.

One advantage of using composite materials, says Dr. Sebastian, would be a significant reduction in on-site construction time, since pre-fabricated components could be brought on-site strictly for assembly with far fewer fasteners than traditional materials. The composites could be lighter and stronger, reducing the equipment and manpower required to build a bridge, and getting traffic flowing in the area sooner.

Composites behave differently under load and in weathering conditions differently from other materials, though, and this is where the research becomes important. Bristol currently has a large-scale bridge prototype in their structures laboratory, and they’re putting it through its paces in standardized fatigue loading tests.

Composite materials have revolutionized transportation with their increased usage in vehicle construction, and as Dr. Sebastian says, “We would like to achieve an equivalent transformation in Civil Engineering, with advanced composites underpinning step changes in the economics, sustainability and structural performance of road bridges.”

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Mike Wrightly is mostly diesel fumes and duct tape; he grew up around heavy equipment, and holds a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering.

Photograph © Copyright Nigel Cox and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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