In 2019, Dr Hexin Zhang, Associate Professor in Structural Engineering at Edinburgh Napier University, was awarded an Industrial Fellowship. These Royal Academy of Engineering fellowships strengthen links between universities and industry as well as encouraging new collaborative partnerships.
Built on the success of a proof-of-concept project in promoting bio-based materials in construction, Dr Hexin Zhang has established a project that aims to develop several types of innovative bamboo-timber composite beams for buildings. The knowledge and industrial experience obtained from this research will enable engineers to use multi-species bio-based composites for larger scale constructions, such as long-span or tall buildings. Working with industry, the research will also inform teaching materials to give students first-hand industrial experience.
Bamboo has a comparable, or higher strength, than the densest and strongest hardwoods but lighter self-weight. A bamboo forest grows very fast with only one-sixth to one-tenth of the maturation time compared to hardwoods. Dr Zhang thought that bamboo-timber composite construction materials could increase sustainability within the industry.
To this end, he carried out a range of product design and prototyping with support from the industry. He also conducted experiments to evaluate the mechanical properties of composite beams made from bamboo and timber.
Dr Zhang’s team at Edinburgh Napier University has now engineered bamboo-timber based composite beams and developed pre-stressing technology that can make high-strength, lightweight construction materials from renewable resources including fast-growing timber. He is working with relevant stakeholders such as construction, forestry and timber industries to identify the innovation’s potential.
Dr Zhang’s researchers are aiming to develop a full structural system including beam, column, floor panel and shear walls using composite materials. These would be useable for both tall and long-span structures in a future-built environment. The group’s work will result in a comprehensive knowledge base for the design, manufacture and construction with bamboo-timber composites.
The Royal Academy of Engineering Industrial Fellowships scheme enables mid-career academics and industrialists to undertake a collaborative research project in either an industrial or academic environment, where one party would host the other.
The scheme aims to strengthen the strategic relationship between industry and academia by providing an opportunity to establish or enhance collaborative research between the two parties.