UNT research team develops disaster-proof shear walls

Published online and in print at the North Texas Daily on 3/2/17

At the College of Engineering, a group of professors and students are working hard to save lives and save homes by developing structures that can withstand the strong winds of hurricanes and shockwaves of earthquakes.

Researchers in the engineering department are creating a type of wall that can withstand natural disasters. The shear walls are built with cold-formed steel instead of the traditional wood structure, making them stronger, more durable and sustainable.

A professor in the department of engineering and technology, Cheng Yu has been working on this project for two years. Its goal is to potentially build buildings with the corrugated cold-formed steel, which would better protect against severe weather.

The material can resist force coming from all directions and can be used in areas close to shorelines or in areas where earthquakes are frequent. Because the material is so strong, taller buildings can be built with it, making it good for big cities.

“For existing buildings, a cold-formed steel shelter can be added to the existing structures for emergency safety protection,” Yu said. “For new buildings, use cold-formed steel to replace wood studs and truss can increase the life-cycle safety level.

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Instead of waiting for a natural disaster to occur, two different tests are performed on the walls at UNT’s discovery park using machines. One test simulates a hurricane and the other simulates an earthquake. During the tests they increase the levels of severity to see how the new wall will react, bending under the force but not breaking.

UNT graduate student Xing Lan applied to the engineering program because of the research being done here. He was introduced to cold-formed steel back home in China, but since it is not common there, he came to UNT.

He has served as the project leader in the last year and designed and built a demo house to test the structure of the steel. A big benefit of using cold-formed steel is that it is easily replaced if damaged; it is also fireproof and termite proof.

“One thing that’s very important is the fire rating of the shear wall,” Lan said. “It’s not combustive.”

Though the material is more expensive than traditional wood panels, less of it is required for each building so less of it ends up being used, making it cheaper in the long run.

In the demo house Lan designed, there are a few shear steel walls on each side, which would protect the building from collapse. Though if a builder wanted to, they could build a house or building with the shear steel walls only.

“There’s a balance between a structure strength and how much you want to spend,” Lan said.

The grant funding the project is for $2.6 million, which includes funding for three universities, more than 10 professors and a group of students.

The project is expected to be completed by September 2018. Once the walls are approved by the American Iron and Steel Institute, electrical and mechanical engineerings will begin to design electricity and plumbing systems for the shelter.

 

 


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