Further information: Structural applications of FRP
CFRP has become a notable material in structural engineering applications. Studied in an academic context as to its potential benefits in construction, it has also proved itself cost-effective in a number of field applications strengthening concrete, masonry, steel, cast iron, and timber structures. Its use in industry can be either for retrofitting to strengthen an existing structure or as an alternative reinforcing (or pre-stressing) material instead of steel from the outset of a project.
Retrofitting has become the increasingly dominant use of the material in civil engineering, and applications include increasing the load capacity of old structures (such as bridges) that were designed to tolerate far lower service loads than they are experiencing today, seismic retrofitting, and repair of damaged structures. Retrofitting is popular in many instances as the cost of replacing the deficient structure can greatly exceed the cost of strengthening using CFRP.
Applied to reinforced concrete structures for flexure, CFRP typically has a large impact on strength (doubling or more the strength of the section is not uncommon), but only a moderate increase in stiffness (perhaps a 10% increase). This is because the material used in this application is typically very strong (e.g., 3000 MPa ultimate tensile strength, more than 10 times mild steel) but not particularly stiff (150 to 250 GPa, a little less than steel, is typical). As a consequence, only small cross-sectional areas of the material are used. Small areas of very high strength but moderate stiffness material will significantly increase strength, but not stiffness.
CFRP can also be applied to enhance shear strength of reinforced concrete by wrapping fabrics or fibers around the section to be strengthened. Wrapping around sections (such as bridge or building columns) can also enhance the ductility of the section, greatly increasing the resistance to collapse under earthquake loading. Such ‘seismic retrofit’ is the major application in earthquake-prone areas, since it is much more economic than alternative methods.
If a column is circular (or nearly so) an increase in axial capacity is also achieved by wrapping. In this application, the confinement of the CFRP wrap enhances the compressive strength of the concrete. However, although large increases are achieved in the ultimate collapse load, the concrete will crack at only slightly enhanced load, meaning that this application is only occasionally used. Specialist ultra-high modulus CFRP (with tensile modulus of 420 GPa or more) is one of the few practical methods of strengthening cast-iron beams. In typical use, it is bonded to the tensile flange of the section, both increasing the stiffness of the section and lowering the neutral axis, thus greatly reducing the maximum tensile stress in the cast iron.
In the United States, pre-stressed concrete cylinder pipes (PCCP) account for a vast majority of water transmission mains. Due to their large diameters, failures of PCCP are usually catastrophic and affect large populations. Approximately 19,000 miles (31,000 km) of PCCP have been installed between 1940 and 2006. Corrosion in the form of hydrogen embrittlement has been blamed for the gradual deterioration of the pre-stressing wires in many PCCP lines. Over the past decade, CFRPs have been utilized to internally line PCCP, resulting in a fully structural strengthening system. Inside a PCCP line, the CFRP liner acts as a barrier that controls the level of strain experienced by the steel cylinder in the host pipe. The composite liner enables the steel cylinder to perform within its elastic range, to ensure the pipeline’s long-term performance is maintained. CFRP liner designs are based on strain compatibility between the liner and host pipe.
CFRP is a more costly material than its counterparts in the construction industry, glass fiber-reinforced polymer (GFRP) and aramid fiber-reinforced polymer (AFRP), though CFRP is, in general, regarded as having superior properties. Much research continues to be done on using CFRP both for retrofitting and as an alternative to steel as a reinforcing or pre-stressing material. Cost remains an issue and long-term durability questions still remain. Some are concerned about the brittle nature of CFRP, in contrast to the ductility of steel. Though design codes have been drawn up by institutions such as the American Concrete Institute, there remains some hesitation among the engineering community about implementing these alternative materials. In part, this is due to a lack of standardization and the proprietary nature of the fiber and resin combinations on the market.