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Innovation

Stronger than steel, lightweight fiber helps lift California bridge

California officials are using a fiber that's 15 times stronger than steel but light enough to float to assemble a bridge between San Francisco and Oakland.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor on

California officials are using a fiber that's 15 times stronger than steel but light enough to float to assemble a bridge between San Francisco and Oakland.

The "Spectra" fiber, made by Honeywell, is being used as reinforcement material in Holloway Houston HHIPER LIFT synthetic slings to lift the tower sections of the reconstructed San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, parts of which weigh up to 2.6 million pounds.

The bridge is being rebuilt to accommodate a new earthquake-resistant, self-anchored suspension span that's set for completion in 2013. At that time, it is expected to be the largest self-anchored suspension bridge in the world.

The slings can actually lift up to 4 million pounds at a time. Honeywell says synthetic versions using its Spectra fiber are 80 percent lighter than steel with the same load rating, which means cranes use less energy to move payloads.

A better product means better use cases, and the company's synthetic fiber has been used in as diverse applications as offshore oil and gas construction, deepwater recovery operations, security netting, rope, cordage, fishing line, bullet-resistant armor and most interestingly, curtains that protect windows and doors during hurricanes.

Honeywell says its Spectra fiber is made from ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene using a gel-spinning process.

The patented process allows for some nice traits:

  • High resistance to chemicals, water, and ultraviolet light.
  • Up to 60 percent greater specific strength than aramid fiber.
  • "Excellent" flex fatigue characteristics.
  • High tolerances for vibration damping and internal fiber-friction.

A smarter fiber that protects lives, feats of engineering and my pride during my next fishing trip. Not bad, huh?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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