News / Vancouver

Earthquake proof: UBC engineers develop 'unbreakable walls'

The new type of seismic-resistant concrete can withstand earthquakes with magnitudes as high as 9.1, like the earthquake that struck Tohoku, Japan in 2011.

Salman Soleimani-Dashtaki, a PhD candidate in UBC's department of civil engineering, sprays a seismic-resistant type of concrete he helped develop.

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Submitted / UBC Public Affairs

Salman Soleimani-Dashtaki, a PhD candidate in UBC's department of civil engineering, sprays a seismic-resistant type of concrete he helped develop.

Parents of students in at least one Vancouver elementary school can rest easy knowing their children will spend their days in a building that can withstand the largest earthquakes ever recorded.

Engineers at UBC have developed a type of seismic-resistant concrete that can withstand earthquakes with magnitudes as high as 9.1, like the earthquake that struck Tohoku, Japan in 2011.

The material is called an eco-friendly ductile cementitious composite (EDCC) and is so strong and flexible that it acts like steel, bending during an earthquake instead of crumbling like concrete.

Walls that are sprayed on both sides with the material performed so well in seismic tests that UBC engineers dubbed it the ‘unbreakable wall.’

“The results of these tests have been amazing,” said UBC engineering PhD candidate Salman Soleimani-Dashtaki.

“We can shake the wall extensively without it failing.”

In fact, Soleimani-Dashtaki had to turn the dial to three-times the magnitude of the strongest earthquake ever recorded in order to break down a two-metre wall of EDCC in seismic tests. 

Minister Melanie Mark announced Tuesday workers will spray EDCC onto the walls of Dr. Annie B. Jamieson Elementary in Vancouver as part of its seismic retrofit in the coming weeks. Funding for that project was announced last fall, but 118 schools in the province remain vulnerable.

“There are projects that are long overdue in this province. Schools have been neglected for a long number of years. We need to catch up with the pack and make sure that our kids are in safe schools,” said Mark, Minister of Advanced Education.

Up until September 2016, the previous B.C. Liberal government required school boards to achieve a 95 per cent enrolment rate before they were eligible to receive funding for seismic upgrades.

The technology developed at UBC will cut retrofit costs in half, added UBC civil engineering professor Nemy Banthia, who supervised the EDCC project.

“This can be very easily scaled to other projects,” he said.

"It costs about half of what other retrofit strategies would cost.”

This research was funded by the UBC-hosted Canada-India Resesarch Centre of Excellence IC-IMPACTS.

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