Science may not have yet entirely conquered Mother Nature, but that hasn’t stopped the scientists at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology from trying. KIT has developed a new wallpaper, the product of more than 10 years of work, which aims to stabilise buildings during earthquakes. This unusual wallpaper is made of woven glass and polypropylene fibres, and uses a polyurethanes adhesive to bond the material tightly to the wall.
Polyurethane has a long history in the emergency response field. Prefabricated polyurethane structures are widely used when natural disasters strike; they are easily delivered and provide much needed shelter in times of emergency. Modern emergency tents also often use polyurethanes spray foam insulation – the tents can be easily transported and assembled, whilst polyurethane helps reduce the amount of fuel needed to provide heating and air conditioning. When it comes to earthquakes, the use of polyurethane foam panels to strengthen buildings was mooted as far back as the 1970’s.
Lothar Stempniewski, Director of the Institute of Solid Construction and Construction Material Technology at KIT, says the new wallpaper is designed to “give people the necessary time they need to flee buildings or even to stabilise walls so they don’t collapse.” This innovative system spreads the force of tremors over a larger area than traditional reinforcement structures, meaning walls are less likely to fragment. According to Mortiz Urban, a co-developer and researcher at KIT, “the fibres that run across the surface straddle the cracks and close them like a rubber band”.
More than 1.3 billion people worldwide live in earthquake zones; the aim of the project was to create a material that could be easily and cheaply distributed and applied even in less developed countries where poor construction standards can exacerbate existing risks from seismic fault lines. The product will hopefully fill its global need soon as it is set to be rolled out sometime in 2012. However, as the current wallpaper is designed for brick buildings and carbon fibres are still required to help stabilise concrete walls, research is on-going to find a solution in this area.