Earthquake-resistant, sustainable construction in Groningen

25 July 2016 • 4 min reading time

Significantly speeding up work to reinforce houses and buildings in Groningen that have been affected by earthquakes while, at the same time, making them more sustainable and fitting them out with the latest in IT technology. That is the aspiration of the ‘Build in Groningen’ (BuildinG) knowledge and innovation platform. This will also give a boost to innovation in construction in the north of the Netherlands.

BuildinG is an open collaborative platform for innovative construction in Groningen, that was founded by TNO, the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, Bouwend Nederland (Dutch Construction and Infrastructure Federation), and Economic Board Groningen. Working in cooperation with the market, its mission is to develop better products for the residents and users of buildings in the area affected by earthquakes. This involves collecting – and building on – existing knowledge, while placing considerable emphasis on the validation and further development of innovation, both in terms of technology and processes.

Smart organisation

“This is a fine example of knowledge parties joining forces with the government and the business community”, says Joram Nauta, a planner at TNO. “We could each have just waited for one of the others to make the first move, but we felt that a breakthrough was needed. The rate at which homes, schools and buildings have been upgraded recently needs to be substantially increased. This is not just about making them safe, they also have to be made energy-neutral and future-proof, using approaches such as the smart organisation of home automation systems, heating and telecommunications.”

“The rate at which homes, schools and buildings have been upgraded recently needs to be substantially increased”

Companies are eager to get started

BuildinG must evolve into a major engine of innovation for the business community in the north of the country. The area has everything it needs to become a leader in boosting the sustainability of homes, schools and offices. Ultimately, the concepts and technologies to be jointly developed by the parties here could even become important export products.
“Many of the companies we have spoken to are eager to get involved”, says Joram. “They have already developed new concepts and finished products that can be used to strengthen the houses, make them more sustainable, and prepare them for the latest IT applications. Some companies have developed future-proof concept homes that can be used to house local residents while their own homes are being repaired. Scaffolding has already been erected around many of these dwellings, but before the builders get started there are two things we need to do. The first is to help clients make decisions and the second is to make sure that everyone understands what effective remedial action involves.”

Refining calculation methods

One of the challenges in which TNO is involved is to develop an advanced calculation method to more accurately determine the damage buildings are expected to sustain and the effect of the structural measures required. The simple method that is currently in use, in which a building’s earthquake resistance is assessed based on a visual inspection, seems to be rather conservative. Joram explains that “The only reason we don’t use more sophisticated methods is that we do not know enough about the behaviour of Dutch structures during earthquakes. This leads to over-dimensioning, and to unnecessarily heavy-duty solutions. In view of this, clients prefer to wait.”

Shake table research

Instead of jacking houses up and replacing their foundations, far less drastic measures might be just as effective at ensuring people’s safety. If so, then many more buildings could be reinforced in a short period of time. “So, for the purposes of our calculations, we need better information about the behaviour of materials and structures during earthquakes of different magnitudes. In addition to guaranteeing people’s safety during very strong earthquakes, this will also – as far as possible – minimise any damage caused by minor earthquakes, which are much more frequent. One way to obtain such information involves the use of a shake table to simulate the behaviour of materials and structures during earthquakes.” In time, this new knowledge about the behaviour of materials and structures under earthquake conditions will enable us to more accurately determine what needs to be done in each case, and to identify safe solutions for current and future use. This will help the business community as it enters into contracts for renovation and damage repair. It will make it possible to answer questions about guarantees and behaviour during earthquakes.

Groningen testing grounds

In the north of the Netherlands, BuildinG is one of the testing grounds that TNO, together with the business community, is using to speed up the development of innovations in a range of fields. Later this year, at the same EnTranCe site on the Zernike campus, the HESI (Hybrid Energy System Integration) laboratory will be opened. Businesses will be able to use this facility to test new technologies, products and services involved in the transition to renewable energy. The STOOP (Dutch acronym for Sensor Technology Applied to Subsurface Pipeline Infrastructures) knowledge centre for subsurface infrastructure will also be opening soon.
Its work will be partly based on experience gained during the IJkdijk project (which took place in Groningen some time ago), in which sensor technology was used to monitor the condition of various dikes.

TNO, Economic Board Groningen, the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, the University of Groningen, telecommunications companies, network builders, and the government launched a collaborative venture in June of this year. The goal was to develop 5G (the next generation of mobile internet technology) under the name of ‘5Groningen’.

Joram Nauta concludes by adding “All of these initiatives are aimed at speeding up innovations (developed with and by the business community) to help to move society forwards and to strengthen our economy”.

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