Ancient floor design will cut concrete usage

Swapping solid slab floors for a ‘thin shell’ vaulted alternative could help the construction industry towards its net-zero targets.

A new vaulted style of floor uses 75 per cent less concrete than a traditional flat slab floor and could help the construction industry reduce its carbon footprint. Created by a team from the Universities of Bath, Cambridge and Dundee the UKRI-funded ACORN (automating concrete construction) research project takes advantage of concrete’s inherent natural properties and strengths.

Dr Paul Shepherd, a reader in Bath’s Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering and the principal investigator for ACORN, says: “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 7 per cent of global CO2 emissions, the easiest way for construction to begin its journey to net-zero is to use less concrete.”

Currently most building floors use thick flat slabs of solid concrete, which are inefficient since they rely on the bending strength of concrete to support loads. Concrete isn’t very good at resisting the tension induced by bending, so these floors also need lots of steel reinforcement. Instead, ACORN’s approach is to use concrete for what it is good at - resisting compression. The design echoes the vaulted construction used since Roman times, but that has been often replaced by steel reinforced concert as a cheaper but less efficient solution. In some way, it really is a case of things going around in a circle – or arch.

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