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High performance (Cost Competitive, long-life and low maintenance) composite bridges for rapid infrastructure renewal

Final Report Summary - HP FUTURE-BRIDGE (High performance (cost competitive, long-life and low maintenance) composite bridges for rapid infrastructure renewal)

The roadway and railway infrastructure in Europe was mostly built during the nineteenth and twentieth century with technologies and systems which cannot meet current transportation demands. The huge increase in the European transport network, as a result of the EU expansion in 2004, highlighted the necessity for the network upgrade, so as to support the increasing service loads and permit qualitative and effective goods' exchange and citizens' mobilisation. The necessary infrastructure replacement ought to be completed rapidly, in a cost-effective, qualitative and sustainable way in order to reduce costs and environmental impacts and enhance new business models and specialised jobs.

Bridges are critical components of the transportation network, in strategic, logistics and economic terms. Their renewal requires either renovation or replacement of the existing structures. The HP FUTURE-BRIDGE project aimed to develop a new, high-performance and cost-effective bridges’ construction concept based on the application of fabric-reinforced polymers (FRP) for rapid renewal and prolonged life service of infrastructures. The concept was innovative, since it employed composite materials for civil engineering applications.

The project was structured in nine different, yet well connected, work packages (WPs) with specific objectives. A life cycle cost model was developed, including social costs, in order to evaluate the FRP bridge decks sustainability. Multi-criteria decision making (MCDM) was employed to compare the alternative technology to conventional concrete and steel constructions. A new manufacturing methodology was defined, so as to reduce production costs and lead times, while new design concepts were utilised. Advanced materials and fire coatings were also developed and optimised. Finally, the project was assessed by the construction of pilot bridge solutions which demonstrated its achievements and allowed for its future commercial exploitation.

A normative review was carried out, along with analysis of the existing infrastructure in different countries, which resulted in definition of the most common bridge length. Furthermore, the requirements of the owners and operators of the structures and the socioeconomic and cultural requirements were examined. Girder and arched bridge concepts were selected for further research. Both bridges were constructed using the same thermoset and thermoplastic systems, developed as part of the project.

The arch reduced significantly the loads, and thus the material cost of the beam element and required a flexible deck. The concept was optimised in terms of geometry, support conditions and deck systems considering, at the same time, the most suitable manufacturing process. A special resin was developed and used in the joint systems to achieve the required strength. Moreover, the durability and composition of the utilised materials were extensively examined.

Three optimisation processes were applied in the girder bridge case to achieve the optimum cross-section for technical performance and cost-effectiveness. A finite element model of the designed beam was subsequently used for its refinement. The beams manufacturing required the development of new machinery as well as a new type of creel. In addition, a real scale test was performed in order to assess the technical properties and feasibility of the proposal.

Two pilot girder bridges were subsequently constructed, monitored and tested in order to evaluate their performance with respect to fulfilment of the project objectives. The reduced weight of the bridges' components permitted the placement of the beams in position using a simple truck-crane. All obligatory tests were successfully completed and the structures became operational. The cost analysis also proved that the proposal was competitive in comparison to conventional alternatives. However, further research was required in order to develop the manufacturing process, which was expensive and rendered the entire solution less competitive. Nevertheless, the project was overall successful and represented an innovation in transport systems structures.

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