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Developing hurricane-proof homes

Engineers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) have developed fiber-based composite materials for low-cost residential coastal housing. Homes built with this material would be able to resist to a hurricane by bending instead of breaking. Other houses could 'simply float on the rising tide of a storm's coastal surge.' This 'green' technology will be tested during the next six months in Bangladesh, where the engineers will weave fibers from jute tree with plastics to form an ultra-strong building material. The research team has already created a similar composite material, but one that relies on glass fibers instead of natural tree fibers. This new material could also be used to build homes in the coastal regions of United States, including parts of Alabama and Louisiana. ...

Engineers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) have developed fiber-based composite materials for low-cost residential coastal housing. Homes built with this material would be able to resist to a hurricane by bending instead of breaking. Other houses could 'simply float on the rising tide of a storm's coastal surge.' This 'green' technology will be tested during the next six months in Bangladesh, where the engineers will weave fibers from jute tree with plastics to form an ultra-strong building material. The research team has already created a similar composite material, but one that relies on glass fibers instead of natural tree fibers. This new material could also be used to build homes in the coastal regions of United States, including parts of Alabama and Louisiana. ...

Fiber-based composite material for hurricane-proof homes

You can see two pictures on the left. The top one represents "Ph.D. candidate Amol Vaidya and Nasim Uddin, an associate professor of Civil Engineering at UAB, show[ing] the difference between their multifunctional composite for panelized construction and traditional structural insulated panel after a recent debris test." (Credit: UAB, link to original version) The picture below shows the fiber-based composite material used to develop future hurricane-proof homes. (Credit: UAB). This illustration was extracted from the short video available from the link mentioned in the introduction of this post.

This research team has been led by UAB Associate Professor of Engineering Nasim Uddin, who will spend six months in Bangladesh as a visiting lecturer and researcher at the BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh. While Uddin is focusing to composite materials based on natural fibers, other UAB professors, Uday Vaidya and Fouad Fouad have relied on glass fibers instead of natural tree fibers.

What will Uddin do while in Bangladesh? "While in Bangladesh, Uddin will work with local educators and researchers to study the feasibility, reliability and livability of low cost coastal housing designed to endure hurricanes using environmentally friendly composite building technology. The technology weaves fibers from the jute tree, one of Bangladesh's most common and thriving plants, with plastics to form an ultra-strong building material."

Here are some quotes from Uddin about this project. "The idea in Bangladesh is to find what we can do to design a more green material that is locally available at a substantially lower cost when compared to alternative building materials, and that is substantially stronger than the homes and structures currently being built along the coastline. We will learn if these jute fiber homes are livable, and we'll try to resolve any architectural issues, getting a step closer to the real implementation or construction of such homes for people battered by centuries of deadly storms."

If the six-month project is a success, the technology could also be used in the U.S. "Uddin said that while this next phase of his fiber-composite research is taking place overseas, the technology, if it proves viable, will have tangible benefits for the coastal regions of United States, including parts of Alabama. 'The potential payoff of this program could be the rapid insertion of the tree-fiber technology into the rebuilding and future construction of homes in the Gulf Coast states, especially in flood and storm prone areas like Mobile and New Orleans,' Uddin said."

Here are more details about Uddin's new material. "'Traditionally built homes can tumble like a For more information, you also can read an article in the September 10, 2007 issue of the UAB Reporter, "Researchers develop material to withstand the elements."

Here are more details about Uddin's new material. "'Traditionally built homes can tumble like a house of cards against tornados and hurricanes,' Uddin says. 'Maybe the time has come to move beyond traditional construction materials and begin looking at smarter materials.' Uddin and his team are designing, developing and manufacturing housing material that protects against damage from higher winds, debris and floodwaters more than traditional building materials do. The new material is made of fiber-reinforced polymer composites that form a sturdy, new-age Structural Insulated Panel (SIP)."

SIP? What is this? "SIPs traditionally have consisted of plywood or similar face-sheet materials and use molded expanded polystyrene as the core material. However, these have poor resistance against wind-borne debris, are heavy, foster mold buildup and disintegrate under floodwaters. Uddin's team overcomes these issues by replacing the plywood and strand board with thermoplastic face sheets produced here at UAB. The sheets create light-weight composite SIPs with high strength-to-weight ratios. Uddin recently simulated a test in which the equivalent of a 15-foot piece of wood traveling at 130 miles per hour hit the less than 6-inch-thick SIP. The object barely made a dent on impact."

This looks like an interesting new material which might save lives. But I'm wondering if it would have made a difference if it has been widely used exactly four years ago when the huge tsunami killed more than 225,000 people in Asia.

Sources: University of Alabama at Birmingham News, December 9, 2008; and various websites

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