New book maps out the design, performance, and application of the material of the future: Ultra-High Performance Concrete

Dr. Nemkumar (Nemy) Banthia is a University Killam Professor, Distinguished University Scholar and a Sr.  Canada Research Chair at UBC Civil Engineering, renowned for his pioneering work in sustainable concrete infrastructure.

His extensive portfolio includes over 475 refereed papers, 9 patents, and leadership roles in transformative initiatives like the Canada-India Research Center of Excellent, IC-IMPACTS.

His latest publication, Ultra-High Performance Concrete: Design, Performance, and Applications, explores the revolutionary potential of Ultra-High Performance Concrete (UHPC) in construction.

In this exclusive interview, Dr. Banthia discusses the motivations behind his research, the unique properties of UHPC, and its implications for sustainable urban development.

1. What motivated you to write a book specifically on Ultra-High Performance Concrete (UHPC)?

The motivation behind writing this book stemmed from the profound shifts occurring in the construction industry. Concrete remains the most used construction material today and on a volumetric basis, concrete use is only second to the use of water by mankind. In the last 5 years, UHPC has emerged as a leading material globally with an unparalleled strength and ductility, and has the potential to become the primary material for resilient infrastructure.  The goal was to compile critical insights and research findings into a comprehensive resource that addresses UHPC’s design, performance, and practical applications.

Over two years, I and my coauthors meticulously crafted different sections of the book, striving for consistency in language and content. Through 7 to 8 iterations, we aimed to deliver a definitive guide that goes beyond simply cataloging information, but offering deep insights into research needs, mechanisms, and real-world applications.

2. Could you provide a brief overview of what UHPC is and why it has garnered such widespread interest in the field of construction engineering?

UHPC is a revolutionary material known for its exceptional strength, up to 200 MPa—roughly 30 times stronger than regular concrete. This immense strength allows for significantly thinner structural elements, reducing material usage and enabling architects to create sleek, innovative designs. UHPC also carries fiber reinforcement which provides enormous enhancements in ductility, fracture toughness, blast and impact resistance and fatigue endurance.  

What’s more, UHPC’s environmental benefits are substantial. By using alternative cementitious materials or byproducts instead of traditional cement, we can drastically reduce carbon emissions associated with concrete production. This aligns with the urgent need to mitigate CO2 emissions in the construction sector, where concrete contributes nearly 13% to global emissions. We now have UHPC formulations that are entirely cement-free. 

3. How does the use of UHPC contribute to addressing common challenges in civil engineering and construction projects?

UHPC addresses several key challenges faced in civil engineering and construction. Its exceptional strength and durability result in longer-lasting structures, reducing maintenance needs and life-cycle costs. The material’s high ductility and deformability makes it the perfect material for structures that are subject to blast and impact and extreme loads such as during earthquakes. In some formulation, this material requires less cement than regular concrete, which could help emission from concrete production as 1 ton of cement creates 1 ton of CO2. UBC research has developed UHPC formulations that are entirely cement-free. 

4. In terms of practical implementation, what are some key considerations for contractors and engineers when working with UHPC in construction projects?

Practical implementation of UHPC demands meticulous attention to detail. Quality control during production is crucial, as this material does not tolerate errors well. Contractors and engineers should also be well-versed in the use of additives and specialized processing techniques tailored to UHPC. The book provides essential guidance to avoid common pitfalls and ensure successful project outcomes.

5. As UHPC continues to gain interest worldwide, what do you see as the future direction of research and development in this field?

Looking ahead, research and development in UHPC will focus on pushing performance boundaries even further. We anticipate achieving strengths of up to 600 MPa and simplifying guidelines to make UHPC more accessible for general applications. Moreover, integrating UHPC into mainstream construction practices, beyond specialized projects, will be a significant area of exploration.

In Canada, where UHPC research is thriving—especially at institutions like UBC—we foresee broader applications ranging from 3D printing to sewage infrastructure. The goal is to establish UHPC as the material of the future, offering unparalleled durability, sustainability, and versatility in construction.