How Ultra-High-Performance Concrete (UHPC) has accelerated infrastructure development in Malaysia

A bridge in Penang, Malaysia; image by Gwoeii/Shutterstock

By Anisa Pinatih

Ultra-High-Performance concrete (UHPC), often used in the construction of major infrastructure, is produced by global key players in cement production. Malaysia has been manufacturing its own version using proprietary technology at a fraction of the cost. Since then, UHPC has successfully improved the transportation infrastructure across the country.

Read: Building Bridges with Ultra-High-Performance Concrete (UHPC)

Professor Yen Lei Voo researched UHPC for his doctoral dissertation and came up with his own formula. He used local ingredients to reduce the cost. He spent four years refining his work and found a way to bring this technology to the market. With this, he secured contracts with the Public Works Department (JKR) to build UHPC bridges in Malaysia. Now, the UHPC he created dominates the country’s market.

According to Prof Voo, as reported by The Edge Markets Malaysia, many bridges, especially in rural areas, are built with several columns lodged in the river floor. With the heavy rainfall during the flood season, logs that are carried by strong currents may demolish the columns and destroy the foundation.

By using steel to make bridges without columns, higher investment will be incurred as steel structures are more expensive, with more maintenance due to rust. Therefore, UHPC could be a sustainable solution. With this material, a long-span bridge in rural areas can be constructed at affordable prices.

Besides, in building bridges, a large part of the cost is for temporary works like diverting the river; once the construction is completed, all the temporary structures must be removed. With UHPC, the cost of having to construct temporary post-tensioning and temporary falsework and supports can be reduced substantially.

Kampung Baharu-Kampung Teluk Bridge is the current record holder as the world’s longest multiple-span road bridge superstructure constructed using UHPC precast girders. The bridge superstructure consists of 20 UHPC precast U-beams.

Unlike conventional precast concrete girders, according to Voo et al. in the research report on UHPC performances, U-beams do not have vertical shear reinforcement. The only conventional reinforcement used is the anti-bursting reinforcement located at the anchorage zones, and the reinforcement for the transfer of the longitudinal shear at the connection of the flanges and the in-situ deck slab. The immediate cost saving is more than 10 per cent. Maintenance is also low because the structure has no bearings/joints.

Meanwhile, Batu 6 Bridge is the current longest single-span road bridge entirely constructed using UHPC. The bridge has a box girder cross section and it crosses Sungai Perak. Aside from the immediate cost saving, it has better functionality; minimal maintenance because there is no pier; and lower risk to destruction. For its innovative construction, Batu 6 Bridge obtained the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute (PCI) 2016 Design Award for being the best international transportation structure.

UHPC has the potential to transform the precast concrete industry. With standardised designs codes and procedures, UHPC will have the ability to be cost-competitive compared to conventional concrete and steel alternatives. By taking advantage of the key properties in UHPC, construction stakeholders can revolutionise the industry through the efficient use of materials, sustainable process and enhanced long-term performance.

Many developing countries are in desperate need of durable, low-maintenance bridge structures to link isolated communities to neighbouring networks and cities. Small towns and villages in remote areas may find difficulties in sourcing materials and affordable technologies. Malaysia has been exploring the benefits of UHPC to accelerate its infrastructure developments. While constraints and challenges are unavoidable, there is definitely an opportunity there.

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