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Structural strengthening of concrete is a real concern not only in our country, but worldwide. Often times, we hear about the bridges, ports and water pipelines that are major components of our failing infrastructure. But it is the substrate itself, the iron and steel-reinforced concrete, that is the issue. Concrete is not made the way it used to be and does not last as long. In his book, “Concrete Planet”, Robert Courland states “The Romans built concrete structures that lasted over 2 thousand years. Ours will last a century — at most.” Furthermore, cement is the third largest source of CO2 emissions after automobiles and coal-fired power plants. Producing more concrete to replace our existing infrastructure has environmental consequences that are worth paying attention to. Fortunately, there are more sustainable, alternative methods for repairing or concrete infrastructure such as carbon fiber reinforcement that will save money and spare the world the additional negative environmental impact.

Concrete reinforcement or replacement is required when a structure’s strength capacity is compromised and/or requires upgrading. This is often due to a change in use in the load capacity of the structure. Or this is due to corroded reinforcement inside the concrete, which has caused the concrete to break apart. When concrete undergoes vibrations from a manufacturing process or traffic, or undergoes thermal expansion during hot/cold cycles, minor cracks can occur. These cracks can be fixed. However, when air, moisture, and chemicals seep into reinforced concrete, the reinforcing steel bar rusts and blooms (expands in diameter), which destroys the surrounding concrete. There is typically spalling or falling off of the concrete, and ultimately the building, road, bridge, dam, levee, home, airport runway, sewage and water pipe, school, canal, power plants, grain elevators, shipping piers, tunnels, etc. are destroyed.

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Cracked and spalling concrete columns at a copper refinery

Concrete repair is a favorable alternative to replacement from an environmental standpoint, as significant energy is required to produce cement, which mixed with water and rock produces concrete. According to the World Coal Association, “Coal is used as an energy source in cement production. Large amounts of energy are required to produce cement. Kilns usually burn coal in the form of powder and consume around 450g of coal for about 900g of cement produced”. The Environmental Protection Agency reports making one ton of cement results in the emission of roughly one ton of CO2—and in some cases much more. All of the steel-reinforced concrete that we use for creating roads, buildings, bridges, water and wastewater pipelines, etc. has a very short shelf life, and typically require rebuilding them every couple of generations. This adds more pollution and requires more precious and monetary resources.

Structural strengthening of concrete is an alternative to replacement by using materials such as carbon fiber, which are lightweight, quick to install, and do not add any weight to the existing structure. It also is a more sustainable approach to infrastructure repair, as carbon fiber utilizes a by-product of oil refining that was once discarded. Installed, it creates a significant environmental impact by replacing steel and concrete repairs or replacement when end-to-end transportation costs, energy, and use of natural resources are considered, have significant carbon footprints. Most importantly to the end user, HJ3’s carbon fiber repair systems provide a 60-90% cost savings over replacement, allowing clients to extend the life of their infrastructure for years. End users also favor HJ3’s carbon fiber systems because they can eliminate down-time costs. HJ3’s most common concrete reinforcement applications include strengthening columnsbeamswallsslabssilospedestalspilingsunderground pipemanholes and concrete tanks.

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HJ3’s CarbonSeal Concrete Repair System reinforced degrading columns at this hundred year Old copper mine

Reinforcing our degrading concrete planet can be done a couple of ways. Either by replacing our concrete infrastructure with more concrete, which requires significant energy to produce and emits significant CO2 into the atmosphere. Or by a more sustainable approach, such as HJ3’s advanced composite systems for infrastructure repair. Carbon fiber is easier and faster to install, making it a lot more cost effective when materials, transportation, permitting, downtime and labor costs are considered. If you have a concrete structure requiring reinforcement and would like to learn more about HJ3’s concrete repair systems, contact our project managers at hj3pm@hj3.com.