Buildings, roads, bridges, tunnels… They surround us, exposed to all sorts of weather conditions and quite often lasting decades, even centuries. Those in charge of their maintenance face some major challenges when fixing inaccessible roads or cracked up façades but they almost always find a way to bring them back to life. What are their secret ingredients?
Epoxy resins are definitely part of the equation. They are in the manufacturing of adhesives, paints and coatings, primers and sealers, flooring and other materials used in construction and architecture since their discovery in 1936. In fact, the construction industry was, together with aerospace, the first to understand the unique benefits of this polymer.
If only they it had been discovered 30 years earlier! Epoxies could have prevented, for example, several of the reconstruction works carried out to preserve the Tower of Drince, a symbol of the industrial prowess of the Orne valley in France. This tower, constructed in 1904 in wood and then turned into steel in 1932, has been restored more than once. In its last restoration in 2000, three layers of epoxy paint were used after replacing a number of elements (stairs, pillars and retaining cables) and, since then, the municipality regularly visits the site to avoid any untimely deterioration. Surely the anti-corrosion properties of the protective epoxy coating will keep the restorers away for many years.
700 km up north from the Orne valley, in Berlin, epoxies are also making an important contribution to city maintenance. The Rudolf Wissell Bridge has been renovated during the summer using a new technique called “HANV method”, where a particularly hollow asphalt layer is applied before filling the cavities with epoxy. In this case, it is important that the restoration works are carried out over the summer, to avoid the risk of water filling the pores instead of the resin.
The “HANV method” is not the only innovative solution in the restoration sector. The European Union launched in 2013 a project called “HealCON” to develop self-healing concrete. In order to do this, the team is investigating the possibility of using bacteria, hydrogels and epoxy resin, which would be enclosed in capsules and then mixed under the concrete. If the concrete broke, the capsules would break too releasing the polymer and forming a hard mass that closes the crack.
These are only some of the many examples where epoxies’ properties help us live in more secure and long-lasting environments. Their application in construction and engineering, although often used in small quantities, is crucial for the 3.3 million European firms working in this sector because, thanks to them, they are guaranteed to have durable, outstanding results. Next time we see a restoration project going on in floors, ceilings, façades or structural elements; let’s think of how much maintenance work epoxies are saving.