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Thu September 16 2021

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HS2 to spearhead use of graphene-reinforced concrete

3 Aug Skanska Costain Strabag Joint Venture (SCS JV) is to pioneer the use of graphene-reinforced 3D-printed concrete on its London tunnels work for HS2.

Deployment of the on-site 3D reinforced concrete printing technology, called ‘Printfrastructure’, is intended to deliver environmental and cost benefits for Britain’s new high-speed rail network. Use of the 3D printing will help cut carbon on the project by up to 50%, said HS2 Ltd.

A particular breakthrough is coming through technology developed by SCS JV’s Worcestershire-based partner, ChangeMaker 3D. The SME has worked with UK advanced materials specialist, Versarien, to combine the 3D concrete printing process with the use of graphene as reinforcement.

Microscopic strands of graphene only several atoms thick will run through the concrete like stripes in a stick of rock to replace traditional steel.

SCS JV estimates that the process it is developing with the Midlands firm could reduce the concrete used and contribute toward reducing carbon by up to 50%. Removing steel and simplifying the construction process will also mean that the process will no longer require cranes and will involve significantly fewer delivery trucks, so the carbon reduction could be even greater.   

Printing concrete with computer-operated robots will enable SCS JV to make structural elements on site, instead of transporting them as precast slabs by road. The mobile technology for the 3D concrete printing will allow deployment in physically restricted areas. It will also minimise travel disruption where HS2 construction is happening besides a live railway, as a robot will print the reinforced concrete while trains continue to run at the same time.

Using a computer-controlled robot enables the reinforced concrete structures to be printed with an internal lattice structure, which not only reduces the quantity of concrete required but also cuts waste.

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HS2 innovation manager Rob Cairns said: “The project SCS JV and ChangeMaker 3D are collaborating on is a fantastic demonstration of the kind of far-reaching innovations HS2 enables. With a build programme spanning the decade and across the country, the project is creating an ideal environment to develop technologies with the potential to transform how major infrastructure is built.”

SCS JV temporary works manager Andrew Duck said: ”Automation enabled by Printfrastructure’s 3D reinforced concrete printing creates a factory-like environmental that delivers a high-quality product that both increases efficient use of materials, and reduces our carbon footprint.

“It is important that we give technologies such as Printfrastructure the opportunity to flourish because of the possibilities it offers the industry to make a step change in how projects are delivered.” 

ChangeMaker 3D director Natalie Wadley, said: “ChangeMaker 3D stands for sustainability in the built environment. Through our Printfrastructure innovation project with SCS JV - a UK first for this technology - and together with brilliant project partners, we are proud to support the rail sector to unlock lower carbon construction.”

Proof of concept trials are due to begin in spring 2022.

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