Researcher to Test Material Against Storms in Bangladesh

A professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is set for six months of overseas research aimed at developing a lightweight composite material that would bend but not break in a hurricane and float on a storm's coastal surge.

UAB Associate Professor of Engineering Nasim Uddin, Ph.D., and his collaborators are behind the innovative work. Beginning Nov. 22, Uddin will spend six months in Bangladesh as a visiting lecturer and researcher at the BRAC University. He will work to strengthen the university's post graduate-program in disaster mitigation while furthering ongoing research into natural fiber-based composite technologies for low-cost residential coastal housing, engineered to withstand hurricane strength wind and storm surge damage. The trip is funded by a Fulbright Scholarship grant and is an extension of more than six years worth of UAB-based research funded by more than $1 million in National Science Foundation grants.

"Coastal people everywhere face serious threats, but imagine if we can build a home that would still be there after the storm," Uddin said.

While in Bangladesh, Uddin will work with local educators and researchers to study the feasibility, reliability, and livability of low-cost coastal housing designed to endure hurricanes using environmentally friendly composite building technology. The technology weaves fibers from the jute tree, one of Bangladesh's most common and thriving plants, with plastics to form an ultra-strong building material. Uddin's ongoing research with co-principal investigators Professors Uday Vaidya, Ph.D., and Fouad Fouad, Ph.D., has focused on a similar composite material, but one that relies on glass fibers rather than natural tree fibers.

"The idea in Bangladesh is to find what we can do to design a more green material that is locally available at a substantially lower cost when compared to alternative building materials and that is substantially stronger than the homes and structures currently being built along the coastline," Uddin said. "We will learn if these jute fiber homes are livable, and we'll try to resolve any architectural issues, getting a step closer to the real implementation or construction of such homes for people battered by centuries of deadly storms."

Uddin said the technology could help structures survive hurricane storm surge and the resulting flooding, by essentially allowing the buildings to float on the rising tide once uplift pressures from climbing water levels force the structures free from their foundations.

Bangladesh is one of the most disaster prone and densely populated areas in the world, offering a unique opportunity to better understand the potential real-world applications of the tree-fiber composite technology in construction.

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