PI: Paolo Bocchini and Clay Naito

Co-PI(s): John Fox

University: Lehigh University

Traditional design and manufacturing approaches for reinforced concrete structures lead to substantial waste of material. While this makes sense looking at the bottom line (because labor is more expensive than materials), it takes a toll in terms of sustainability and environmental impact. In fact, buildings and construction generate nearly 40% of the global CO2 emissions, yet action continues to lag far behind opportunity in this sector. Rectangular cross-sections, prismatic beams, and straight reinforcement bars are artifacts of the past, which results in waste material, and these items can be made obsolete by new design and construction approaches. In this project, the team plans to work on a research thrust that leverages a novel manufacturing technique called 3D printing by selective binder activation, which allows us to produce objects made of cement and aggregate with complete freedom of shape, in a fully automated way, and without increasing the manufacturing costs, even when complex geometries are shaped. This technique can create free-form cavities in the manufactured concrete objects, which can be filled with epoxy material or other resins to become an innovative, free-form type of reinforcement. Complete freedom of shape (at no additional cost) will allow the construction industry to use material only where it is most effective, reducing unnecessary material use, limiting waste, and, in turn, decreasing CO2 emissions from the construction sector. The team at Lehigh, in collaboration with cement experts from Buzzi Unicem USA, has developed a process that can 3D print prototypes with this approach. The main goals of this project will be to:

  1. develop and refine a technique for the impregnation with epoxy to generate reinforcement and test the performance of the resulting specimen.
  2. devise a design protocol that takes advantage of the complete freedom of shape that this process enables.