Researchers from Singapore have developed a new form of flexible precast concrete that promises to create more durable and slip-resistant road surfaces while also cutting construction times by as much as a half.

The innovative concrete developed by researchers from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University is more flexible than conventional forms of the material, making it less brittle and permitting its use in the production of slimmer precast pavement slabs that are much easier for builders to install.

“We developed a new type of concrete that can greatly reduce the thickness and weight of precast pavement slabs, hence enabling speedy plug-and-play installation,” said professor Chu Jian, interim co-director of NTU-JTC Industrial Infrastructure Innovation Centre (I3C).

While conventional concrete manufactured using cement, water and coarse aggregate can be is extremely hard, it’s also brittle and inflexible, rendering it susceptible to cracking or fractures while under tension.

The NTU researchers made the ConFlexPave concrete they developed more flexible and less brittle by adding synthetic polymer microfibres to the mix, enabling it to flex or bend when subjected to stress.

Understanding the mechanical interactions of different materials at a microscopic level was critical to effective incorporation of the polymer fibres into concrete mixtures, according to assistant professor Yang En-hua from NTU’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“With detailed understanding, we can then deliberately select ingredients and engineer the tailoring of components, so our final material can fulfil specific requirements needed for road and pavement applications,” he said.

Another key advantage the microfibres used to make ConFlexPave is that they make the material more skid resistant, making it an excellent candidate for use with roads or pavements.

“The hard materials give a non-slip surface texture while the microfibres which are thinner than the width of a human hair, distributing the load across the whole slab, resulting in a concrete that is tough as metal and at least twice as strong as conventional concrete under bending,” said Yang.

The reduced maintenance requirements of the precast concrete slabs could also make roads or pavements developed using the materials more sustainable over their full life cycle.

Tablet-sized slabs of ConFlexPave have already successfully passed testing conducted by NTU. The researchers now plan to conduct further tests over the next three years on larger slabs at live sites, where they’ll be subjected to both pedestrian and vehicular traffic.