An engineer from California State University Long Beach has been investigating how textile waste could be used in building and infrastructure projects as an alternative to traditional materials.

With global resources diminishing year on year, Yu-Fu Ko, a member of the faculty in the civil engineering and construction engineering management department, has been researching the potential for the use of new materials in modern construction.

“The material diminishing the fastest is timber,” he said. “I see less every year. The same is true for reinforced concrete and steel. Typical buildings and bridges today still use all these materials. That won’t be the case in the future.”

Ko’s research considers how textile waste could be used to reinforce concrete buildings and bridges and how it may be applied to retrofit earthquake-damaged structures in the future.

“Currently carbon fibre reinforced polymer composites (CFRPs) are used to retrofit buildings and bridges. But making these reinforcing fibers can be hazardous if these carbon fibres are breathed in. They are also expensive,” he said. “I hope, by mixing textile waste with bio-derived resin matrix, they will deliver the equal strength of CFRPs at a reduced environmental impact.”

Carbon nanotubes injected into a structure can significantly improve the strength of the original structure, similar to how concrete is filled with rebar.

“In decades, there will be limited resources to make rebar. As well as being an abundant alternative, carbon nanotubes offer many times the strength offered by rebar reinforcement. We are talking about superstructures in the future,” Ko said.

The development of new computational modeling and algorithms has been helping Ko perform the necessary mechanical tests on the various materials.

“I have worked to develop new computational programs so an engineer or a student could simply input numbers and parameters and immediately estimate the mechanical properties of the materials used in their daily design,” he said.

With new materials constantly under development, understanding how materials could be used in modern construction at both a microscopic and nanoscopic scale is essential according to Ko. In conjunction with his expertise as an applied mechanics researcher, he then studies the behaviour of materials both mechanically and numerically.

“It is important to come up with the right equations and computer programs so that engineers or students can understand the material’s fundamental parameters,” he said. “With these kinds of studies, we can make predictions about the material’s behaviours and we can use these data to analyze and design for buildings, bridges, infrastructures and more.”