Engineering: Fully Funded M2A MSC by Research Scholarship: Advanced Materials Research for Ultra High Performance Concrete (UHPC) Products at Swansea University
Start date: October 2022
Expected interview date: May 2022
Academic supervisors: Dr Clare Wood
Industrial supervisor: Charles Phelines
Sponsoring company: Cubex Industries Ltd
CubeX Industries (www.cubexindustries.co.uk) is a UK-based company established in 2019, with a manufacturing and research base near Tunbridge Wells in East-Sussex. Its founder, Charles Phelines, has spent most of his life working on a wide range of demanding design and build projects throughout the world including Asia, the Middle East and Europe. He has developed and manufactured rapid foundation and wall and roof systems using both steel and lightweight concrete and approaches projects with a particular focus on sustainable building material technology.
Traditional concrete is a durable material compared to others. However, degrading mechanisms such as rusting steel reinforcement, carbonation and chloride penetration can lead to a shorter lifespan. UHPC, however, can be deployed in demanding environments such as marine applications and cold-weather exposures thanks to the high durability this material offers. With a high load-bearing capacity, UHPC is also able to create more slender constructions that use less concrete and more recycled materials yet be more cost-competitive than conventional concrete. It is, therefore, an undoubtedly sustainable alternative to traditional concrete, allowing for elegant designs with fine surface details.
CubeX offers a range of bespoke ultra high-performance visual and structural concrete solutions, combining ultra high performance concrete (UHPC) performance and design to empower architects, designers and engineers with better options that reduce the environmental impacts of their building projects. A highly focussed, agile company, CubeX designs and manufactures bespoke UHPC solutions that meet the structural, aesthetic and sustainable demands of each project.
CubeX is committed to continuous improvement, with a particular emphasis on making its product more sustainable and delivering better solutions for the environment. To this end, collaboration with Swansea University is ongoing via a number of strands. One notable project includes the Swansea Bay Sea-Hive project (www.swansea.ac.uk/bioscience/seacams-2/mumbles-sea-hive-project), part of the research projects SEACAMS2 and ECOSTRUCTURE. CubeX has worked collaboratively with academics from the Department of Biosciences to develop a more eco-friendly seawall concrete product, investigating a range of surface textures to attract shore life. In total thirteen panels with distinct moulded patterns have been manufactured using a bespoke CubeX UHPC product, then screwed and chemically bonded to the seawall at various locations around Swansea Bay. After three months, shore-life colonisation occurred with up to 260 barnacles settling on the panels. This area of marine-friendly concrete surfaces research will continue via the forming of a separate Registered Company “BlueCube Marine”.
From the engineering perspective, the constituent materials that go into our mix, and the long-term performance of our products is critical. Collaborative research, led by Dr Clare Wood of the Department of Civil Engineering, is seeking to investigate the use of more sustainable by-products, recycled materials and strategies for reducing the cement content and freshwater content of our UHPC, without compromising performance. Two ongoing early-stage research projects are focussing on alternative pozzolans and fine aggregates, and sea-water UHPC mixes respectively. A number of further research areas have been identified, three of which are contained within this project proposal for development within a MSc by Research project.
- Developing UHPC as a bio-marine product
Building on previous work carried out in the Sea-Hive project, we have identified that further work focussing on the materials development aspect of our UHPC product (as opposed to the surface texturing work explored previously) could lead to further significant steps towards a bio-marine friendly UHPC product. The work will seek to investigate the impact that the mix constituent materials has on the chemistry of our UHPC product and seek to understand whether this is of significance to marine/shore life colonisation (current research in the literature tends to focus on normal concretes, not UHPC, and the outcomes from that research are very mixed). Furthermore, we seek to build on our experience in combining UHPC with photocatalytic active coatings (typically deployed for aesthetic purposes) to explore bio-friendly coatings which could accelerate marine/shore life colonisation through improved surface adhesion/scaffolding or the provision of essential nutrients.
- Potential for the use of carbon nano-tubes in UHPC.
The research work of Dr Alvin Orbaek-White has centred around (1) the improvement of the energy infrastructure using carbon nanotubes to transmit electricity and (2) the use of carbon waste into higher-value products such as carbon nanotubes. Carbon nanotubes are already recognised as an effective reinforcement in UHPC, capable of significantly improving its mechanical properties. This early-stage research between CubeX and Swansea University therefore seeks to build upon these potential improvements in sustainable mix design whilst also investigating strategic applications for the deployment of the composite carbon-nanotube UHPC product, for example the provision of electromagnetic interference shielding, self-sensing materials (eg for crack detection in concrete), conductive UHPC for innovative deployment of electrical networks.
- Basalt fibres and basalt rebar in UHPC
Basalt rebar is highly resistant to corrosion, and as such is well suited for marine environments and chemical applications, where corrosion is a continuous concern. Ongoing early-stage research collaboration with Dr Clare Wood and specialist basalt reinforcement supplier TechnoBasalt (Ukraine) seeks to explore applications for basalt fibre and rebar reinforced UHPC as an improvement upon conventional steel reinforcement.