A two-story building on the campus of Technical University in Dresden, Germany is the world’s first building made from carbon fiber reinforced concrete.

The world’s first building made of carbon fiber reinforced concrete, known as Carbonhaus, is a collaborative effort of engineers, designers, and researchers who have advocated for use of advanced materials in place of the traditional concrete and steel in construction for many years.  The 5-million-euro project is being funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

The 2,200 sq. ft. building consists of a precast box and a double-curved roof made possible because of the use of the lightweight and pliable composite materials. The carbon fiber being used in the project is produced from petroleum-based polyacrylonitrile (PAN) and provide the tensile strength of steel at one-quarter the weight.

According to Barzin Mobasher, a professor at the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment at Arizona State University with almost 30 years of experience in the field, at least half of the concrete in a typical building component is used to protect the steel reinforcement from corrosion.  He further explains that because steel and concrete “work in tandem, but not together,” the resulting component continues to be prone to cracking and erosion.

Manfred Curbach, director of the Institute of Concrete Construction at Technical University Dresden, another industry veteran and advocate of the use of advanced materials in construction, stated that composite components are more durable and better for the environment, saving up to 70% in greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr. Curbach added that the cost of carbon fiber reinforced concrete is comparable to steel when labor, equipment, manufacturing, and transportation are figured in, with both costing $13-15 per kilogram to produce.

The construction industry has been slow to adopt lighter weight reinforcement materials because of regulations and because of the history of using steel and concrete. Both Mr. Mobasher and Mr. Curbach remain hopeful that carbon fiber reinforced materials could be adopted for more use in the future. Mr. Mobasher noted that he has seen some interest in using carbon fiber reinforced materials for quick repair work within damaged infrastructure in the U.S., and Mr. Curbach added that it could take 20 years, and would require changes in regulations, but companies in China and Israel are already showing interest.