Tailored Reinforced Concrete Infrastructure: Boosting the Innate Response to Chemical and Mechanical Threats

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Engineering


The required global infrastructure investment from 2013-2030 is estimated to be £34 trillion. Thus there are significant social and economic ramifications associated with the utilisation and design of strategic infrastructure assets which are fit for purpose both now, and in the future. Nationally, the construction sector is vital and contributes around £90 billion annually to the UK economy.

This EPSRC Established Career Fellowship will provide Dr Lees with the prestige and freedom to extend the impact of her research and develop a new field of research dedicated to the creation of tailored concrete infrastructure. The enhancement of the innate characteristics of reinforced concrete with a concurrent reduction in total cement content directly links to key Engineering global grand challenges for Sustainability and Resilience. Concrete is the most widely used construction material in the world, over 4 billion tonnes in 2013, and cement production is responsible for 5-7% of man-made CO2 emissions. 'Cradle to factory gate' emissions for CEM 1 are 913 kg CO2e for 1000 kg of cement. The sustainability credentials of the proposed research are to mitigate the scale of this environmental impact through the delivery of more durable construction, a reduction in the cement content in concrete products, and material efficiency.

The 'innate' characteristics of our reinforced concrete infrastructure include an inherent resistance to a myriad of deterioration causes e.g. chemical attack, chloride ingress, and mechanical actions e.g. dead and live loads. To help achieve the desired resistance, minimum cement contents are specified for a required strength or durability. In conventional practice, the same concrete mix is used throughout a given structural element. A compelling new paradigm is to break from conventional thinking and reinterpret a reinforced concrete structure as a tailored continuum to meet a desired serviceability, strength and/or durability performance. Materi with high cement content is used judiciously to boost the innate response of our reinforced concrete infrastructure by explicitly recognising, targeting and reacting to environmental and mechanical threats to structural performance. In this way, there is either no loss, or an enhancement, in structural and durability functions. The innate immunity against environmental actions is boosted for corrosion prevention whereas the adaptability in response to mechanical actions is enhanced through the novel design of the concrete continuum for a greater structural resilience. These deliverables present a unique opportunity for the PI, UK Academia and UK Industry, to establish a world leading capability in a nascent field while addressing Engineering Sustainability priorities for lifetime extension, reduced lifetime costs, energy minimisation and a reduction in over-engineering.

Planned Impact

Cement production is energy intensive and accounts for 5-7% of manmade CO2 emissions. Nevertheless concrete is the mostly widely used construction material in the world. Significant economic, environmental and societal impacts will be realised as a result of clever innovation to reduce cement usage.

Tailored reinforced concrete infrastructure opens up vast opportunities for improved material efficiencies and CO2 reductions while maintaining structural integrity throughout the lifetime of a structure. Corrosion prevention and an inherent adaptability in response to mechanical actions provide more efficient and durable structural members. Less energy intensive concrete infrastructure that remains fit-for-purpose for longer mitigates negative financial, societal and environmental impacts associated with CO2 emissions, deteriorating infrastructure, maintenance interventions and user disruption. This will assist governments and policy-makers in meeting environmental targets and improving the quality of life of the nation.

As the result of this Fellowship, the UK will become the global leader in an exciting new growth area. Tangible commercial and reputational benefits will be realised by UK construction from the early exploitation of tailored concrete technology over a short to medium term horizon. Access to novel underpinning research will also mean that UK Industry is poised to beneficially exploit rapid advances in manufacturing adding further value to the construction sector and competitive advantage.

Novel, evidence-based research is at the heart of the Fellowship proposal. The PI has a strong track record in delivering internationally leading research, communicating advances within professional fora, and in translating research into practice. The Advisory Committee meetings, Industrial Engagement events and Academic collaborator meetings provide opportunities for discussion and dissemination with a range of stakeholders. High profile participants, partners and collaborators will extend the impact by communicating the outcomes throughout their own institutions, to professional bodies, including design code committees, and to their wider network of contacts throughout the supply chain. This will lead to an enhanced understanding and acceptance of the innovations, greater exploitation, and a more sustainable basis for the design and construction of future infrastructure. Large scale multi-disciplinary proposals led by the PI will capitalise on the Fellowship deliverables and will shape national research priorities.

The Fellowship will provide freedom for the PI to gain a fuller appreciation and knowledge of connectivities with cognate areas to make even greater contributions towards addressing Engineering for Sustainability and Resilience challenges. The PDRAs will develop tremendous core expertise in reinforced concrete and concrete technology with multi-disciplinary knowledge relating to sustainability, optimisation and manufacturing leading to a unique skill set that meets tomorrow's needs. As the 2014 ICE State of the Nation Report notes 'The civil engineering industry of tomorrow will require a wider range of skills and competencies.' and hence the PDRAs will be in high demand from academic, or non-academic, employers. Affiliated MEng and PhD students will flourish as part of a vibrant, supportive, project team delivering world-leading research and be well-prepared to make their mark in their future professional careers.

Outreach and community activity will promote public recognition of the energy intensity of cement embodied within our reinforced concrete infrastructure. This will encourage dialogue and the exchange of ideas on how to promote a more sustainable vision and the important role of Civil Engineering in creating the lifelines for society. Excitement about the creation of bespoke materials will inspire future generations of Engineers.


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Torelli G (2019) Fresh state stability of vertical layers of concrete in Cement and Concrete Research

Description CDT in Future Infrastructure and Built Environment Studentship
Amount £80,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/L016095/1 
Organisation University of Oxford 
Department EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT)
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2017 
End 09/2020
Description EPSRC - University of Cambridge Doctoral Training Partnership Award
Amount £70,000 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2019 
End 09/2022
Description Knowledge exchange between Highways England and Cambridge on UHPFRC 
Organisation Department of Transport
Department Highways Agency
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Highways England have an interest in the potential use of Ultra High Performance Fibre Reinforced Concrete (UHPFRC) but there are limitation in our understanding of the behaviour of the material in shear. During 2018/19, a Cambridge MEng student supervised by Lees has conducted analytical and experimental work to scope specific knowledge gaps and the findings suggest contradictions in proposed design practice.
Collaborator Contribution Highways England have provided supporting material and technical advice throughout the project.
Impact Professor Lees chaired a panel on UHPFRC as part of a Dec 2018 Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure & Construction (CSIC) Industry Meeting. This initiative will now engage further industry partners and follow-on workshops are planned.
Start Year 2018
Description Knowledge exchange between the University of Cambridge and Queen's University 
Organisation Queen's University
Country Canada 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution As a result of Dr Janet Lees' overseas travel award for research visits to Canada (EP/J002887/1), Dr Lees and Professor Hoult from Queen's University strengthened existing collaborations and forged new collaborations. They collaborated on an MSc student project at Queen's University which was based on research conducted at Cambridge investigating crack propagation. This resulted in a joint publication. Dr Lees has provided strategic technical guidance through her membership of the Steering Committee of a Canadian NSERC Strategic grant led by Professor Hoult in collaboration with the University of Toronto and the University of Ottawa.
Collaborator Contribution Professor Hoult and his team have provided fibre optic sensor and digital image correlation expertise which has helped to validate models developed at Cambridge. Professor Hoult was a member of the International Steering Committee for our Cambridge-based EPSRC funded research project (EP/K016148/1) to investigate reinforced concrete half joints and is collaborating with Professor Lees on EPSRC Established Career Fellowship Tailored Reinforced Concrete Infrastructure project (EP/N017668/1). During regular visits to Cambridge Professor Hoult has been working with the project team on collaborative aspects. We also collaborate through SKYPE meetings.
Impact Additional research funding, international research collaboration, knowledge transfer, student training
Start Year 2010
Description Knowledge exchange between the University of Cambridge and University of Toronto 
Organisation University of Toronto
Department Civil and Mineral Engineering
Country Canada 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution As a result of Dr Janet Lees' overseas travel award for collaborative research visits to Canada (EP/J002887/1), a number of new and exciting research projects have been instigated in collaboration with the University of Toronto (U of T). A PhD project at the University of Cambridge (2012-2016) undertook research to investigate the time-dependent behaviour of reinforced concrete. The Cambridge PhD student applied an analytical approach developed at the University of Toronto (U of T) and linked this to experiments undertaken in Cambridge. The collaboration with U of T also benefited an EPSRC funded project relating to the CFRP shear strengthening of reinforced concrete T-beams (EP/J002887/1) where the Cambridge team built on analytical work undertaken by the University of Toronto and adapted this to a new class of problems. Our two Institutions actively share and discuss research findings.
Collaborator Contribution Under the aegis of EP/J002887/1 Professors Bentz and Collins hosted Dr Lees in Toronto during Spring/Summer 2012 and subsequently on short term repeat visits during 2013/2104. Dr Lees worked with Professors Bentz and Collins during her stays and was not charged a bench fee. As a result of these visits and discussions, Dr Lees submitted a successful EPSRC proposal - Reinforced concrete half-joint structures: Structural integrity implications of reinforcement detailing and deterioration (EP/K016148/1). To further develop our collaboration, Professor Bentz spent a three month period of sabbatical leave at the University of Cambridge in 2014. Professors Bentz and Collins were International Collaborators on the EPSRC project on reinforced concrete half-joint structures (EP/K016148/1) and are also collaborating with Cambridge on our latest work on tailored reinforced concrete infrastructure (EP/N017668/1).
Impact Additional research funding, international research collaboration, new approaches to reinforced concrete design, analysis and assessment, student training
Start Year 2012
Description Knowledge exchange with Arup on Reinforced Concrete Design & Assessment 
Organisation Arup Group
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Ongoing engagement with ARUP team regarding research findings Hosting of a Cambridge/ARUP meeting in Cambridge on Feb 1, 2019 on recent research findings in relation to the strength assessment of reinforced concrete bridges, and tailored reinforced concrete structures
Collaborator Contribution Technical advice and feedback
Impact Closer collaboration, knowledge transfer
Start Year 2017
Description Swiss Fed Labs of Material Sci Tech EMPA 
Organisation Empa - Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology
Country Switzerland 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We have a long-standing and fruitful collaboration with EMPA. We have worked together on projects relating to the use of innovative prestressed CFRP straps for the shear enhancement of reinforced concrete and also jointly undertaken projects relating to the long-term durability of thin high strength prestressed conrete elements. These have been the subject of a number of Cambridge PhD theses and student research projects and have led to new knowledge in a number of areas.
Collaborator Contribution Our colleagues at EMPA have provided high level technical support and guidance and supplied us with CFRP materials and prestressed CFRP specimens. We have also undertaken complementary research studies which have led to joint publications. We have mutual interests in sustainable concrete infrastructure.
Impact Knowledge transfer, international research collaboration, research student co-supervision, student training, joint publications
Start Year 2006
Description EPSRC Blog (Lees) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The purpose was to write a blog for the general public to highlight my research and thoughts on creativity and engineering in light of 2018 being the Year of Engineering. A particular topic was inspiring the next generation and interesting examples from our EPSRC CDT in Future Infrastructure and Built Environment student-led activity and personal thoughts were shared.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.epsrc.ac.uk/blog/creativityandconcrete/
Description Panel Chair (Lees) for EPSRC IKC Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure & Construction Industry Strategy Day, Dec 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact As a result of the panel sessions, industry partners have engaged and expressed a commitment in supporting research projects related to ultra-high performance fibre reinforced concrete and also the mitigation of the environmental impact of concrete. These will now be developed further in collaboration with the EPSRC IKC Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure & Construction.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Presentation (Gimenez Fernandez) - Cambridge University Structures Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Mar Gimenez Fernandez presented her latest research on Tailored Reinforced Concrete.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Presentation (Lees) during Cambridge University Engineer's Association Alumni Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation to Cambridge Engineering Alumni - the discussion reflected an increased awareness of the environmental impact of concrete and the latest research development
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Presentation (Torelli) to high school students in Montepulciano, Italy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Dr Torelli gave a presentation on his own career path, and professional career choices more generally, to an audience of high school students from his home town.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://www.sito.liceipoliziani.com/possibilita-di-crescita-professionale-allestero-7-gennaio-2019/