Following the painful defeat of the Spanish Armada at the hands of the British, Philip II voiced his disappointment with an utterance that would go down in history, “I sent my ships to fight the English, not the elements”. In a way, it could be said that architecture and the development of infrastructures must carry out exactly the opposite mission to that of this Spanish king; i.e., they have to fight against the elements. The challenge is to develop materials and techniques that can guarantee durable structures. This challenge is especially pressing at a time when there is much building taking place in locations with extreme weather conditions, where the generation of electricity is often the main goal: offshore wind farms, or prospecting in the Artic. Building and maintenance under such severe circumstances can be extremely costly. The development of new and extremely resistant materials has thus become a critical issue. This is where a new type of concrete, named after a Norse god, arrives on the scene—LORCENIS, or Long Lasting Reinforced Concrete for Energy Infrastructure under Severe Operating Conditions.
An international consortium comprised of 16 partners has been formed. It includes 3 European universities and 6 research centers, as well as large companies such as ACCIONA, SIKA, KVAERNER, VATTENFALL y DYCKERHOFF and medium enterprises like Smallmatek and ChemStream, and this group has pooled its know-how for the development of new smart materials designed to endure the most challenging conditions. These materials can take on that tough challenge thanks to their properties; they are self-healing and self-curing, and are able to provide structural self-diagnosis and protection against corrosion. These are some of the conditions this concrete will need to face:
- Extreme temperatures: either extreme heat or extreme cold, such as in Arctic and desert areas, as well as in concentrating solar power (CSP) plants, where temperatures above 400 °C are reached.
- Mechanical Fatigue: waves in the high seas, or vibrations. Offshore wind farms would be an example of this.
- Corrosion: both by sea salt and by the acidic environments of refrigeration towers and nuclear power plants, as well in places such as biogas plants and industrial harbors.
The singular characteristics of LORCENIS
But what is the precise difference between LORCENIS and conventional concrete? For starters, LORCENIS offers self-diagnosis capabilities. By making use of a network of carbon nanotubes and nanofibers with an increased electrical conductivity, it can provide accurate information concerning its actual state. It can also battle against the first cracks using self-repairing system based upon elastomers and hydrogels in a technology that compacts its structure. Thirdly, it’s a self-curing material that prevents shrinkage occurring. Finally, it makes use of specific corrosion-inhibiting additives to provide further protection.
When all these factors come together, what we are left with is a new breed of concrete that can double the durability of the conventional one, endowing it with up to 50% increased resistance to extreme temperatures and the same amount of reduction in chloride ingress. In addition, maintenance costs will be brought down by between 25% and 100%, depending on the environment.
LORCENIS is currently half-way through the development process, two years into its estimated four-year span. The lab research stage, where each member of the consortium has managed specific areas, is reaching completion. From them on, ACCIONA, leading the industrial scaling tasks together with the other industrial partners, will take on the task of demonstrating the reality of a 100% increased lifespan, by manufacturing monitored prototypes. Such prototypes will consist of reinforced concrete structures designed within the project that will prove that they behave properly under extreme operating conditions. Some of these structures will be components for power generation, like refrigeration towers or offshore wind farms. Another key goal of the project will be the development of basic computer software to analyze and simulate the behavior of the concrete, as well to forecast its durability with precision.
In an increasingly power-hungry world, where most of the electricity will be generated through tidal, wind and solar systems, technologically advanced materials such us LORCENIS will play a truly vital role.