But if the columns can be repaired, engineers typically chip away at the concrete, replace any bent rebar and steel hoops inside and then pour new concrete into a steel cast that's built around the column. That's a lengthy process that leaves the bridge unusable for weeks until the repair is finished.
Pantelides' quicker and more cost-effective process involves creating concrete donuts known as "repairs" that are lined with a composite fiber material built around the bottom and top of each column. The material is a carbon fiber-reinforced polymer made of fibers and resin that is stronger than concrete and steel.
First, a number of steel rebars with heads are drilled into the foundation around the column and secured with an epoxy. Then two halves of a circular shell made of the composite fiber (that are just millimeters thick) are placed around the column and rebar and spliced together. Concrete is poured around the column and over the rebar with the composite fiber acting as a mold. The result is a repaired column with approximately the same structural integrity as the original column, Pantelides says.
"The circular shape gives you the best strength for the amount of material you are using. The stresses are distributed equally all around the periphery," he says. "With this method, if there are future earthquakes or aftershocks the bridge will survive and damage will happen adjacent to the donut. This gives the bridge a second life."
The process also could be used to retrofit bridges to make them more earthquake-safe, though it was specifically designed for repair. And it's not limited to repairing just bridges. The procedure also can be used on damaged columns around a building. Pantelides and his team have filed patents on the process, and he says it can be utilized by construction companies on earthquake-ravaged areas immediately.