HS2 will spearhead the use of graphene reinforced concrete


The deployment of on-site reinforced concrete 3D printing technology, called “Printfrastructure”, aims to deliver environmental and economic benefits to Britain’s new high-speed rail network. Using 3D printing will help reduce project carbon by up to 50%, HS2 Ltd said.

A particular breakthrough is on the way thanks to technology developed by Worcestershire-based SCS JV partner ChangeMaker 3D. The SME worked with British advanced materials specialist Versarien to combine the process of 3D printing concrete with the use of graphene as reinforcement.

Microscopic strands of graphene only a few atoms thick will cut through concrete like scratches in a stick of rock to replace traditional steel.

SCS JV estimates that the process it is developing with the Midlands firm could reduce the concrete used and help reduce carbon by up to 50%. Eliminating steel and simplifying the construction process will also mean that the process will no longer require cranes and involve far fewer delivery trucks, so the carbon reduction could be even greater.

Printing concrete with computer-controlled robots will allow SCS JV to manufacture structural elements on site, instead of transporting them as precast slabs by road. Mobile technology for 3D concrete printing will allow deployment in physically restricted areas. It will also minimize travel disruption where HS2 construction is taking place in addition to a live railway, as a robot will print the reinforced concrete while the trains continue to run at the same time.

Using a computer-controlled robot, reinforced concrete structures are stamped with an internal lattice structure, which not only reduces the amount of concrete needed, but also reduces waste.

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HS2 Chief Innovation Officer, Rob Cairns, said, “The project that SCS JV and ChangeMaker 3D are collaborating on is a fantastic demonstration of the kind of far-reaching innovations enabled by HS2. With a construction program spanning the decade and across the country, the project creates an ideal environment for developing technologies that can transform the way major infrastructure is built.

SCS JV Temporary Works Manager, Andrew Duck, said: “The automation enabled by Printfrastructure’s reinforced concrete 3D printing creates a factory-like environment that delivers a high-quality product that at both increases the efficient use of materials and reduces our carbon footprint.

“It’s important that we give technologies like Printfrastructure the chance to flourish because of the opportunities it offers the industry to dramatically change the way projects are delivered.”

Natalie Wadley, Director of ChangeMaker 3D, said, “ChangeMaker 3D is synonymous with sustainability in the built environment. Through our Printfrastructure innovation project with SCS JV – a UK first for this technology – and with brilliant project partners, we are proud to support the rail sector to unlock low carbon construction.

Proof-of-concept testing is expected to begin in spring 2022.

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