There have been dozens of significant earthquake events in 2017 alone. Every time an earthquake hits, buildings (and human lives) are at risk. Whether deep or shallow, long or short, every earthquake poses threats to buildings not constructed with movement in mind.
How can better buildings – and, more specifically, better materials – lead to improved outcomes after earthquakes? Cutting-edge materials are innovating the process of “earthquake engineering.” Let’s take a look at a few of the most interesting developments of late.
Traditional Building Materials and Earthquakes
Certain materials naturally perform better than others in the event of an earthquake. Mud and clay structures are weak in shear and compression. Masonry buildings perform better, although their weight causes problems regarding inertia. The type of construction that has always withstood seismic activity best is reinforced concrete, utilizing its high-strength shear walls as well as load dispersement capabilities. Most of the material advancements in earthquake engineering are happening in the reinforced concrete sector.
New Materials Improve Seismic Performance
Reinforced concrete is itself a composite material. Textile composites, that is, those that take the form of a textile fabric, are increasingly being tested in movement-prone building projects. Textiles make great sense for earthquakes because they are flexible. By infusing textiles with myriad composite benefits – high tensile strength, directional rigidity – it’s possible to add another significant layer of protection to a building’s earthquake-resistant shell.
Some of the more interesting textile composites in earthquake construction are meant to be laid directly on top of traditional composites like concrete. There has been significant scientific development among foundational composites themselves, this “earthquake resistant concrete,” for example, which couples with strength-imparting textiles to provide even more resiliency.
Why Composite Textiles?
Why are composite textiles so well-suited for earthquakes? It’s all in their structure. Woven and/or matted materials are far more ductile than rigid composites, allowing more bend and give in unstable conditions. Very small amounts of flexibility within a structure can mean the difference in a wall shearing off and simply swaying on top of a foundation.
Researchers are still determining which strengthening material is best used for such textiles. Glass fiber reinforcements keep textiles lightweight and cost-effective; innovative materials such as carbon fiber and even fly ash imbue novel strength quotients but are too costly to scale for most projects.
B&W Fiberglass works with dozens of partners in construction and development. We take a lot of pride in helping develop and produce glass textile solutions that innovate the way these partners ultimately design and build.