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Tuesday, 17 September 2019
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Raw materials & technologies, Production and testing

Electricity may be able to detect rusting reinforcing steel

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Researchers from the University of Buffalo believe they can detect corrosion before the damage becomes severe by sending a jolt of electricity between opposite ends of steel cables.

The steel cable tendon is suspended above a saltwater mixture with ultrasonic sensors attached at both ends for corrosion monitoring.

Source: Marcene Robinson
The steel cable tendon is suspended above a saltwater mixture with ultrasonic sensors attached at both ends for corrosion monitoring. Source: Marc...

An inconsistency in the charge would alert them that the cable is suffering from corrosion and the bridge is in danger of falling. "The No. 1 priority of all civil engineers is the safety of the public,” says Tresor Mavinga, a UB senior civil engineering and mathematics major involved in the research. "Corrosion can affect any structure, not just bridges, and we don’t want that to happen. We need to be as accurate as possible to save money, time and lives.”

Ultrasonic-guided waves can travel a long distance

The civil engineers embedded piezoelectric transducers  – devices that convert a signal from one form of energy to another – onto each end of a wire. They then fired one volt of electricity through the metal using ultrasonic-guided waves, which can travel a long distance with little loss in energy, while monitoring the charge received at each end. The experiment was repeated with the same wire after it was rusted with a saltwater mixture. Because the cables are corroded, most of the energy from the electrical charge will be lost during the transfer between transducers. Since the sensors and transducers are permanently attached to the cable, engineers can test the wires remotely off-site.

New method could replace expensive visual tests

The method of testing could do away with time-consuming and expensive visual tests, which often rely on drilling through concrete to inspect the cables or spotting cracks in the concrete caused by increased stress on the weakened wires. According to the Federal Highway Administration, corrosion problems have increased significantly over the past three decades and are likely to continue. The increase is in part due to the rising use of road de-icing salts, which are extremely corrosive to the protective films on metals.

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