In 2004, whilst studying for postgraduate degrees in Industrial Design Engineering in London, Will Crawford and Peter Brewin developed an idea for a rapidly deployable emergency shelters made of a concrete-impregnated fabric. Nine years later, the concept has matured into an innovative, award-winning material technology that has dozens of applications in civil construction and remediation projects and is exported to over 40 countries worldwide.

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Concrete Canvas (CC) was invented by Peter Brewin (MEng) LEFT and Will Crawford (MEng) RIGHT during their postgraduate degree studies in Industrial Design Engineering at Imperial College London and the RCA in 2004. It was originally developed for the award-winning Concrete Canvas Shelters (CCS), an inflatable concrete building that requires only water and air for construction.

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The ideas won multiple awards and the company was founded using a combination of prize money, investment and government grant support. 18 months were spent developing CCS and CC, which was required to enable CCS to work.

After 18 months the company relocated to Trefforest in South Wales to develop the unique production equipment necessary to manufacture CC in commercial volumes.

In 2013, Concrete Canvas was a finalist in the MacRobert Award, the premier award for innovation in UK engineering. Previous finalists have included Jaguar Land Rover, Airbus and Microsoft, testament to how far the material has come since its university beginnings.

In 2014 the product and production equipment are still undergoing development. The first operational production line was achieved in 2008, and since then the equipment has continued to evolve substantially through approximately 50 iterations. Achievements include development of 3 different thickness’ of the material, substantial reductions in cost, and improvements in the performance of the product.

How does it work?

Concrete Canvas (CC) is a flexible, cement impregnated fabric that hardens on hydration to form a thin, durable, water proof and fire-resistant concrete layer. Essentially, it’s concrete on a roll.

CC consists of a three-dimensional fibre matrix linking two faces;  a porous face that retains the dry concrete powder but allows water to pass through, and an impermeable face. A bespoke dry concrete mix is trapped within the fibre matrix, which: controls the separation of the faces, aids hydration by wicking water and also reinforces the concrete once set. The composition, particle size distribution and density of this mix is carefully controlled to define a void ratio. During hydration, water fills these voids and because the fabric controls the internal volume the concrete cannot expand; hence the critical water-to-cement ratio is controlled by the materials structure.

*See Demo Video HERE

This means that Concrete Canvas cannot be over-hydrated, resulting in a concrete solution that can be laid in the rain and even installed underwater.

The material also has the following key advantages:

  • Rapid InstallationCC has been installed at a rate of 200sqm/hour, which is up to 10 times faster than conventional concrete solutions.
  • Easy to Use – CC is available in man-portable rolls for applications with limited access. It can be cut with hand tools, and requires minimal training to use. The concrete is also pre-mixed, eliminating the need for mixing, measuring or compacting.
  • Value-Engineered – The speed and ease with which CC can be installed result in it being more cost-effective than conventional concrete solutions. Up to 200sqm of CC can be supplied on a single pallet, reducing the logistical burden of civil projects.
  • Environmentally Friendly – CC is a low mass, low carbon technology which uses up to 95% less material than conventional concrete in many applications.

The material is currently produced in three thicknesses, (5mm, 8mm and 13mm,) and in rolls up to 200m long. The material can be unrolled from a spreader beam (a piece of equipment used for laying geotextiles), allowing large areas to be covered very quickly with minimal plant equipment.

Applications

CC is used in a variety of civil infrastructure applications, including ditch lining, providing erosion protection to slopes and capping secondary containment bunds. Compared to traditional concrete solutions, it has proven to be quicker, easier and less expensive to install across these applications. This is more so the case with sprayed concrete, as CC does away with the logistical and health and safety difficulties associated with shotcrete or gunite.

The largest Concrete Canvas project to date took place in the Atacama Desert in Chile. Over 53,000sqm of CC was used to line water channels, aiming to divert glacial melt water that threatened to flood a nearby copper mine. The project was being undertaken in a remote and challenging environment, with the bulk of the installation over 4,000m above sea level in an area subject to temperatures ranging from -10oC to 20oC.

Concluding remarks

CC is constantly being developed for new applications. It has recently been installed with great success in two projects in the UK; at a Marine Terminal Facility, providing hard armour capping for secondary containment bunds, and as an erosion control solution in a limestone quarry, where it was tested successfully under blast conditions.

A healthy R&D culture within Concrete Canvas Ltd means research is also being undertaken into new material variants, meaning that CC will no longer be limited to external projects but can be specified for internal and specialist applications as well. Immediate uses include wall cladding, flooring, basement lining, and waterproofing.  The company is also working on the feasibility of developing a variant of the Canvas for structural fire protection, potentially replacing expensive spray-on epoxies and time consuming hand-rendering techniques.

At Concrete Canvas Ltd we believe that CC will have far reaching consequences for many areas of the construction industry for many years to come, providing innovative solutions to logistical, environmental and cost problems in a wide variety of applications.