Updated:01/17/2021 01: 26h
On the gentle Saturday morning of October 9, 2019, a roar alerted residents of the French Quarter of New Orleans: part of the structure of the new Hard Rock Hotel, which was under construction, collapsed from the upper floors onto the corner of Rampart and Canal streets, leaving dozens of injured and three deceased employees who were working at the time of the events. The images of that disaster spread like wildfire on social networks. Less than a year later, several buildings in Beirut collapsed after several explosions at the port. In this case, victims amounted to more than 200, and the material damage multiplied exponentially. Could these events have been prevented, at least in part?
Jose Miguel Adam, a researcher at the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) thinks so thanks to his novel proposal to design more robust buildings based on something as, a priori, simple as electrical networks. And he is not the only one who thinks so, since he just received 2.5 million to materialize your project, dubbed Endure, thanks to a ERC Consolidator Grant, one of the most prestigious grants from the European Research Council that grants investment for “radical” ideas that demonstrate that basic science has direct application well beyond the laboratory.
“I thought that a similar philosophy could be applied to how electrical networks protect themselves against overloads, connecting different segments of the network using electrical fuses”, explains to ABC Adam, who has already been awarded a Leonardo Scholarship, awarded to Researchers and Cultural Creators by the Foundation BBVA, to develop a project that will lead to more robust buildings. The operating principle of the fuse is simple: a weaker element is inserted in the circuit (fuse), in such a way that when the current reaches levels that could damage its components (overload), the fuse blows and interrupts the current circulation, but without damaging the entire circuit.
Like a power grid
“In buildings, the structures are continuous, which in situations of external threat such as an explosion or a collision, the collapsing elements drag the rest of the components, causing a Domino effect. To avoid this, these “fuses“That would be imperceptible to the human eye, but that in case of failure or collapse, they would prevent areas that are not damaged from being dragged and also demolished.” In other words, the buildings would be divided into several parts and, between them, structural “fuses” would be placed that would minimize the impact of the demolition. A totally new design philosophy.
The first part of the project will be to define how these new types of buildings will be constructed, how they will be segmented and in which areas the fuses will be located. These components will then be designed and laboratory tested. Aware that the construction industry is reluctant to change, Adam has set out to use traditional (and cheap) building materials known as concrete or steel to materialize these fuses.
Once all the work is completed, they will be built two pilot buildings on the UPV campus a real scale with dimensions in plan of 30×20 meters and three heights. «This is the most ambitious part of the investigation. In fact, the evaluating panel has decided to finance the proposal with 500,000 euros more than the maximum bankable for an ERC Consolidator Grant (2,000,000 euros), due to the potential impact that these trials may have ”, highlights the researcher, who develops his work at the Institute of Concrete Science and Technology (ICITECH) of the UPV.
After the pilot buildings are constructed, the effectiveness of these fuses will be tested. On the one hand, it will test under normal conditions, checking that the fuses are indistinguishable in the structure and that they can withstand normal activity. A second test will move them to a severe scenario in which the fault occurs in a zone. It is here that the effectiveness of the system will be examined, which should stop the aforementioned domino effect that occurred in the Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans or in many of the buildings in Beirut. “Once the technology is tested, it could be applied to bridges or tunnels. To all types of linear works, in short, “says Adam. Perhaps the future of construction is being written from Valencia.