Concrete’s history dates back to about the fourth century BC when craftsmen in Syria and Jordan used it to build masonry houses and cisterns. Historians recognize the monumental role concrete played in building and maintaining the Egyptian and Roman empires centuries later. We say all this to say that concrete has been around for an awfully long time. It is one of the oldest building materials still in use today.
Concrete is getting a makeover of sorts in the 21st century, thanks to the principles we’ve learned from working with composites. Today’s technology allows us to reinforce concrete with glass fibers in much the same way certain kinds of plastics can be reinforced with carbon fibers. This method of fiber reinforcement is allowing engineers to do amazing things with concrete.
Concrete is a composite material that combines fine and coarse aggregates with a cement binder that holds everything together. As the cement cures, what began as a semi liquid slurry hardens into a single substance. Concrete is quite strong, but it is also rather brittle.
Most concrete today starts with Portland cement and water. A variety of aggregates are added depending on what the finished product will be used for. Concretes are used to build roads, bridges, dams, and other infrastructure projects. It is also the primary building material for commercial construction structures.
Concrete and Rebar
Despite concrete having been used by engineers for centuries, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that they began using it to create the superstructures we are familiar with today. Prior to that time, concrete’s brittle nature limited the size of the loads it could deal with. That changed when a 19th century French gardener by the name of Joseph Monier figured out he could reinforce concrete flowerpots using wire mesh.
From his discovery came the use of rebar as a reinforcement for large, concrete structures. Rebar remains one of the most important tools in concrete construction. But that may change now that fiber has entered the equation.
Concrete and Fiber
According to Arch Daily contributor Eduardo Souza, engineers began toying with fiber reinforcements for concrete some 50 years ago. They have come a long way since then. Today, everything from natural stone to glass fibers are being added to concrete to facilitate better building construction.
Glass fiber is an ideal choice for this sort of application, explains Salt Lake City’s Rock West Composites. Glass fiber can handle high tension from external loads, will not react negatively to temperature changes, isn’t bothered by moisture, and can prevent concrete fissures from expanding. All the while, reinforcing concrete with glass fiber makes the material more flexible than rebar-reinforced concrete.
Thinner but Stronger
What does reinforcing concrete with glass fiber mean practically? It means engineers can use thinner layers of concrete without sacrificing strength. This allows them to create curved structures that were never before possible using rebar as a reinforcing material.
Engineers can now build delicate archways that appear too thin to handle significant loads. The archways are deceptive, because the embedded fibers provide the reinforcing strength that keeps the archways in place. But that’s not all. Fiber-reinforced concrete affords the opportunity to build space-age structures that blur the lines of time and space.
Concrete has come a long way since the fourth century BC. Thanks to what science has learned from composites like carbon and glass fiber, concrete is better today than it has ever been in the past. No wonder it continues to be one of the most popular building materials in the world.