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Vaulted floor may cut carbon

Researchers on the ACORN (Automating Concrete Construction) project, a collaboration between the UK universities of Dundee, Cambridge, and Bath, have developed a vaulted floor design which they hope will help decrease the construction industry’s carbon footprint and reduce concrete usage by 60% and 75% respectively, compared with the conventional flat slab approach.

The solution to creating a level floor using a vaulted design which utilises the inherent strength of concrete is created by covering the vault with flat raised floor panels.

Dr Paul Shepherd, reader in the University of Bath’s Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering, said,

“Achieving the net-zero targets recently ratified at the COP26 conference will require significant change by the construction industry, which is responsible for about half of the UK’s total emissions.
“Since concrete is the world’s most widely consumed material after water, and its production contributes more than seven per cent of global CO2 emissions, the easiest way for construction to begin its journey to net-zero is to use less concrete.”

Usually, thick, solid, flat slabs of concrete rely on its bending strength to support the load of most floors in buildings. However, concrete resists the tension created by bending, which is why it needs to be reinforced with steel. The ACORN project’s approach is to utilise concrete’s property of resisting compression which means less concrete is required.

In addition, because the vaulted shape may be challenging to produce using the usual manufacturing processes, the researchers have designed an adaptable, automated mould and a bespoke robotic spraying system for the concrete, together with specific software which can manage the automated manufacturing process to create the most fitting floors for particular building designs.

There is also a connection network which conjoins the floor pieces once they have been transported to the site in parts rather than as a whole, together with reversable joints which means that the floors can be taken apart and re-used elsewhere if desired.

Quick to make and easy to assemble, it is a demonstrably practical approach to reducing construction concrete’s carbon footprint making the possibility future commercial use eminently viable.

RB Plant | Multi-Disciplinary Engineering Consultancy | Concrete