How a concrete alternative is changing civil engineering
The civil engineering sector is a highly competitive marketplace which impacts a large variety of areas. Concrete has historically been a critical element of civil engineering construction due to its wide range of uses. However, there are some disadvantages to traditional concrete which, despite the development of other construction materials, are still present in poured or sprayed concrete.
Concrete is crucial to many types of projects, as of 2008, it was reported that concrete was ‘the most widely used material in the world’, so simply finding a replacement material is often not possible. An alternative option is installing concrete in a non-traditional way. Two university students from the UK invented Concrete Canvas in the early 2000s, and the product has since developed into a widely used concrete alternative sold worldwide.
According to co-founder William Crawford, Concrete Canvas (CC) is a “flexible geotextile impregnated with a dry concrete powder with a plastic backing on one side.” The material is delivered to project sites on a roll for easy installation. Crawford, along with fellow co-founder Peter Brewin, came up with the idea after being inspired by the process of encasing broken bones with plaster casts.
Concrete Canvas material was initially developed as a product to create disaster relief shelters which could be deployed rapidly. The innovate design featured an inflatable internal lining which then becomes a sterile environment suitable for medical facilities. The shelters even come with doors already installed. The shelters have a design life of over ten years, and the 25m2 version can be erected by just two people in less than an hour and is ready to use in 24 hours. The shelters are also designed, and strong enough, to be covered in earth or sand, which can increase the thermal insulation of the shelter. This makes them usable in even very cold locations.
One of the main benefits of the material itself is its speed of installation. When compared to traditional poured concrete, CC can be installed at a rate of 200m2/hour. This makes it up to ten times faster than traditional concretes.
The speed of installation comes from the design of the product. Containing a dry concrete powder, the material simply needs to be hydrated and left to dry to form a concrete layer. Depending on the type of project, the material may need to be cut to size, which can be done with hand tools. As Concrete Canvas can be installed and is ready to use so quickly, it makes the product highly appealing in areas where work needs to be completed before the start of rainy seasons or to tight deadlines. Furthermore, the speed of install means project costs can be reduced as there is no requirement for specialist machinery and workers on site.
Compared to traditional poured or sprayed concrete, which requires a mixing truck to be present on-site, Concrete Canvas needs no such machinery. For this reason, the material can be installed easily in areas which may be hard to access for traditional methods. It is not always possible for a concrete mixer truck to reach areas which require slope protection or remediation. This is where Concrete Canvas can be extremely useful. Because the material can be cut to size off-site, brought to site for installation and transported by hand on site, it allows for significantly less disruption in hard to access areas and often eliminates the requirement for temporary construction of access roads.
One of the sectors which has benefited significantly from the development of Concrete Canvas is the mining industry. In mining operations, it is vital to control the movement of water and keep it away from specific areas, particularly when the mine site is in close proximity to water courses, sensitive ecological sites, or residential areas. Preventing water loss is also crucial, as mining operations in some parts of the world may already be impacted by lower levels of natural water available. One way of doing this is through designated water drainage channels which divert surface water. CC is used to create a stable channel lining either in a new or pre-existing trench.
Concrete Canvas continues to develop their unique product, and the company has produced a second variation of their fabric called CC Hydro (CCH). This fabric comes with a chemically resistant and fully impermeable geomembrane liner along with a welding strip and air channel. Concrete Canvas has developed this product specifically with the Petrochemical, oil and gas industries in mind, with the product used for containment applications.
The range of sectors and applications Concrete Canvas products have been used in has demonstrated the flexibility and adaptiveness of the material. Artists and designers have also used the material to create sculptures and furniture, but the civil engineering sector remains the primary focus for Concrete Canvas.