Fiber polymer replaces steel bars in major building projects

Published 14 April 2010

UAE University researchers have developed an inexpensive alternative to demolishing damaged buildings and rebuilding them: using FRP (fiber reinforced polymer); FRP can be used in strengthening and repair instead of concrete or steel jacketing, which are labor intensive; moreover, concrete and steel jacketing systems are also often vulnerable to the same deterioration mechanism that caused the problem in the first place

EFORS, the licensed consultancy within the UAE University, is seeing a rise in projects using FRP (fiber reinforced polymer) as an alternative solution compared to the traditional steel reinforcement bars on many new major projects in the UAE.

Dr. Asharaf Biddah, associate professor of structural engineering from the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the UAE University said: “We are working on a project in Jebel Ali where there are some defects and we will offer our advice after evaluation. We are also working on some running projects on Reem Island where there are some minor construction mistakes. On some projects, there are changes after a decision from the owner. The UAE University has a research center and EFORS is a licensed consultancy within this centre.”

Emirates Business’s Sona Nambiar writes that FRP can be applied on top or bottom of slab and can also be used on beams or columns, due to its flexibility, he said. “We can use it in instances where there is either damage to structural parts due to ageing, fire, corrosion or where we need to reduce stresses in steel. Or we need to eliminate a wall or a column or make an opening in the slab. Or there is an error in construction or in planning and insufficient dimensions,” said Biddah.

So far, he has worked on 30 projects in Abu Dhabi, 30 in Dubai, and 20 each in Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah, and Ajman, and 10 in Al Ain over the past eight years. “The coming years are for repair and strengthening rather than new construction. The recent years saw construction of fast track projects that will show defects in the next few years due to minor details being finished without paying attention to quality,” he warned. “In 2010, we are working on more than eight running projects.”

Pricing is the only factor that works against the product. “FRP composite material is an alternative solution for reinforcing concrete structures as opposed to the traditional steel reinforcing bars,” said Tamer El Maaddawy, assistant professor from the same department at the UAE University.

Such rebars have been used in marine docks and waterfront structures such as Nakheel’s Palm Cove Canal in Dubai Waterfront. It is ideally good for buildings having magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) units such as hospitals or buildings having equipments sensitive to electromagnetic fields where the use of steel reinforcing bars is not advised.


For instance, FRP rebars have been used in the construction of the Baker Hughes Building in Dubai. This building’s function is to calibrate electrically sensitive equipments. These rebars have also been used in tunneling to create soft eyes [openings in existing concrete walls].

This has been implemented in Metro Dubai. If such walls are reinforced with steel rebars, it will be very tough to create such soft eyes. FRP rebars is used in these circumstances to facilitate and speed up the work

According to Maaddawy, demolishing and reconstruction is not an economical solution nowadays given the current economic conditions. “Strengthening and repairing of existing structures is gaining popularity all over the world. The solution is to use composite materials in strengthening and repair instead of concrete or steel jacketing, which are labor intensive. Concrete and steel jacketing systems are also often vulnerable to the same deterioration mechanism. Composite materials could be used for strengthening existing concrete columns, beams, and slabs without any extra space,” he added.


Nambiar notes that the UAE University is offering studies to the construction industry as well as consultancy services. “We are currently conducting a research work to examine the performance of concrete structures repaired with advanced composites under the corrosive environment of the UAE. This project is funded by the Emirates Foundation. There is also a collaboration with several international companies including Pultron, Sheock, and Sika,” said Maaddawy.