National Centre for Infrastructure Materials (Leeds)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Civil Engineering


It is estimated that the value of the world's built environment is $218 trillion with the equivalent figure for the UK being $3.1 trillion. Global spend on new economic infrastructure by 2025 is expected to be about £5.3 trillion with £483 billion planned in the UK with most of the infrastructure projects being unique and expected to last not one generation, but for many. Most of the current infrastructure has been built over the last 300 years and 80% of that will exist in 2050, the time by which the UK must meet its 80% emissions reductions, as enshrined in the 2008 Climate Change Act. Some 50% of the UK's annual construction budget is spent on infrastructure maintenance and repair, much of which is due to degradation of materials. Degradation processes are slow; existing infrastructure is naturally in gradual decline; society cannot wait 50 years to see if a new material performs suitably; hence the need for a national centre for infrastructure materials which investigates the degradation of infrastructure materials. This will involve advanced laboratory facilities for accelerated material specimen degradation; large scale environmental chambers for accelerated ageing of structural elements; field site for long-term controlled exposure studies of material and structural specimens; and remote inspection technologies for real world structures to observe material degradation in situ; aimed at improving whole-life infrastructure material performance and developing innovative materials to reduce material use, monetary and energy (carbon) costs and maintenance requirements.

Planned Impact

The scale of expenditure on infrastructure, the quantity of low value materials used and the contribution they makes to carbon commissions is so great that any improvement in the effective and efficient use of materials can have a significant effect. Infrastructure lasts for many generations as shown by the canal era of the 18th century, the railway era of the 19th century and the highway era of the 20th century. Infrastructure underpins society's health, wealth and wellbeing and is referred to as the lifelines society needs to function. Yet urbanization, costs, ageing infrastructure, resource scarcity and increasing population are creating demands for more and better infrastructure. Extending the life of existing infrastructure by understanding how it degrades, evaluating the residual legacy, extending its life through improved maintenance and repair and introducing new materials and processes will ensure better use of existing infrastructure, and produce more cost effective new infrastructure creating a more resilient and sustainable infrastructure that has a major benefit to society.
The construction sector which design, builds, maintains and adapts tle infrastructure will be direct beneficiaries as the research will lead to improved processes and products thus reducing cost and improving performance. This is a reason that there has been so much support from industry in developing this proposal. Of particular interest is the facility to test new materials in a range of accelerated loading and environmental conditions.
The third group to benefit directly from this facility are material scientists and material engineers who will have access to a unique facility to undertake world leading research that will have impact because the facility will allow them to overcome the barriers of introducing materials into a risk averse sector through accelerated ageing and introduction of degradation models.
One of the key aspects of this proposal is to investigate existing infrastructure using the latest developments in remote inspection technologies. This, together with the time dependent degradation studies in the laboratory and field centre, will create a unique record of material performance over time providing data upon which to build more realistic assessments of residual legacy especially in times of environmental change when existing infrastructure will have to be adopted to cope with climate change as well as changes in technology and changes in user requirements. This is of great value to asset owners.


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Description There has been growing industrial interest in the facilities (which are still being developed). A number of companies are keen to potentially collaborate once the facilities are fully functional, but discussions have only been at preliminary stages just yet.
Exploitation Route Too early to say
Sectors Construction

Description Integrated Infrastructure for Sustainable Thermal Energy Provision (IN-STEP)
Amount £583,108 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/S001417/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2018 
End 06/2021
Description UKCRIC pump priming
Amount £1,013,092 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R013535/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 12/2019