World-first facility will change way we design and construct major infrastructure

High performance shaking tables and deep soil pit will cut financial and environmental costs whilst ensuring resilience of high-value infrastructure.

The new UKCRIC Soil-Foundation-Structure Interaction (SoFSI) facility is a one-of-a-kind facility that promises to deliver major cost savings and reduce the carbon cost of high-value infrastructure projects such as High Speed 2 (HS2), bridges and offshore wind farms.

The University of Bristol received £12m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for the construction of the SoFSI Laboratory at its Langford Campus to enable large, close to prototype scale experiments for use by both academics and industry.

The SoFSI facility looks at how buildings and infrastructure interact with the ground when subjected to dynamic loads. The laboratory houses a four-metre (6m x 5m x 4m) deep soil pit for testing foundations, a 50-ton capacity biaxial shaking table for dynamic testing of structures and a smaller, high-performance, six-axis shaking table.

The large-scale test lab will allow researchers and industry to investigate how foundations, dynamic loading and soil interact so they can identify more efficient building methods and significantly improve the safety of future infrastructure. This research will inform the design of smart solutions to improve the resilience of such infrastructure and crucially, the cost-efficiency of construction.

The lab has been designed for research into five core areas: nuclear power plant soil-structure interaction, high speed rail, offshore wind turbines, monopiles and pile groups, and integral bridges.

Anastasios Sexos, Professor of Earthquake Engineering, said: “Ensuring the long-term safety of critical infrastructure is paramount, particularly when it comes to building nuclear power stations or high-speed rail. The aim of this testing facility is to inform design that is not only safer but also cost-efficient. Investigating how buildings and infrastructure interact with the ground under natural and man-made hazards allows us to improve the smartness and resiliency of our infrastructure while at a lower financial cost and a reduced environmental footprint.”

Dr Flavia De Luca, Senior Lecturer in Structural and Earthquake Engineering, said: “At the University of Bristol, we’re investing in state-of-the-art testing facilities that will help cut the cost of building the infrastructure of the future. For example, high speed rail will require many new bridges to cross waterways, roads and other rail lines. SoFSI has been designed to help us understand, among other issues, how the span of lower cost, minimal maintenance integral bridges can be extended so that new high speed railway lines would be faster to construct, cheaper to maintain, more resilient to climate change, and enable us to minimise resource requirements.”

Professor Ian Bond, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, said: “Investing in our state-of-the-art research facilities within the Faculty of Engineering keeps us at the forefront of global research across a wide range of fields and positions our researchers to support the delivery of carbon net zero.”

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