Atkins launches “next generation” of composite bridges

Atkins believes technology used to build the latest aircraft can save millions by being adapted to construct a new generation of bridges.

The consultant has just installed one of the UK’s first composite road bridges over the River Frome near Bristol for South Gloucestershire Council.

Atkins said the bridge cost 25% less than traditional concrete or steel structures.

James Henderson, senior consultant, Atkins, said: “The new bridge at Frampton Cotterell is at the forefront of an exciting new phase in civil engineering techniques.

“The strength and lightweight nature of composites have allowed commercial aircraft to fly further, faster and more economically.

“Having gained this knowledge and expertise, we wanted to see where else the technology could be used to deliver similar benefits.

“Our initial idea was to look at bridge building, a form of engineering which has largely been using the same methods for centuries.”

Advanced composites – layers made from compounds such as carbon bound together using a tough resin – are used widely in industries such as aerospace where they form up to 52% of the Airbus A350’s primary structure.

Composite bridges are equally as strong as steel or concrete bridges but lighter in weight, making them easier to transport from the offsite factory where they are assembled.

They are also quicker to install, reducing the need for lengthy road and railway closures.

This type of bridge will also be more resilient against frost, extreme temperatures and de-icing salts, which will significantly reduce the cost of maintenance.

Henderson added: “The most attractive benefit of a composite bridge is that it would cost at least 50% less to maintain than a concrete or steel structure over the course of its life.

“There are other added benefits too, such as the ease of creating bridges with more interesting designs, the ability to create longer spans between legs or other supporting structures and the fact that they will last longer before needing replacement.”

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