Posted: April 2, 2007

Nanotechnology protection for houses in earthquake zones

(Nanowerk News) A villa designed to resist earthquakes with "self-healing" cracks in its walls, thanks to nanotechnology applications with self-healing polymers, is to be built on a Greek mountainside.
The villa's walls will include special particles that turn into a liquid when squeezed under pressure, flow into cracks, and then harden to form a solid material.
The NanoManufacturing Institute (NMI), based in Leeds University, will play a key role in a €14m EU project to construct the home by December 2010. The project, called "Intelligent Safe and Secure Buildings" (ISSB) is funded under the EU's Sixth Framework prograqm.
This potentially lifesaving scheme is led by German building manufacturer Knauf. The villa will be built in Amphilochia, in western Greece, where Knauf currently runs a manufacturing plant.
If the experiment is successful, more tremor-resistant homes could be built in earthquake zones across the globe.
NMI chief executive Professor Terry Wilkins said: "What we're trying to achieve here is very exciting. We're looking to use polymers in much tougher situations than ever before on a larger scale."
Monitors contained in the villa's walls will be able to collect vast amounts of data about the building over time.
Wireless sensors and Leeds-designed radio frequency identity tags will record any stresses and vibrations, as well as temperature, humidity and gas levels.
The walls are to be built from novel load-bearing steel frames and high-strength gypsum board.
Prof Wilkins said: "If there are any problems, the intelligent sensor network will be able to alert residents immediately so they have time to escape.
"If whole groups of houses are so constructed, we could use a larger network of sensors to get even more information.
"If the house falls down, we have got hand-held devices that can be used over the rubble to pick out where the embedded sensors are hidden to get some information about how the villa collapsed.
"Also, we can get information about anyone who may be around, so it potentially becomes a tool for rescue."
Dr Greg Horler, from Leeds University's School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, will work with Instrumentel, a spinout company from the university, to deliver the sensor technology.
Dr Roger Gregory, chairman of Instrumentel, said: "Leeds are world leaders in designing wireless networks for extreme environments and hard-to-access places.
"Even if the building totally collapsed, the sensors would still let you pinpoint the source of the fault."
A team from the university's School of Mechanical Engineering, headed by Professor Anne Neville, will research designing the nano polymer particles required.
Prof Wilkins said: "Once we have the optimum design, we could quickly start producing thousands of litres of nano-particle fluid, adding just a tiny percentage to the gypsum mix."
Leeds is the only UK university asked to join the project, which involves 25 other partners.
Source: University of Leeds
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