School of Civil Engineering

Our world-class facilities and international staff allow us to work on some of the most pressing fire safety challenges faced by the global community. Our research aims at improving building codes and driving safer practices by working collaboratively with industry and community organisations such as the Queensland Fire Service or the Queensland Government.

Our research portfolio spans a number research projects (click on each topic to find out more!):

Timber

There is a growing demand from architects, developers and clients to create buildings from engineered timber products. Timber is both aesthetically appealing and environmentally advantageous; however, fire safety considerations are frequently cited as a major constraint on the use of timber within buildings. UQ is a leading researcher in this area and is actively working to provide engineers with the knowledge and understanding required to build safely with timber at a large scale.

UQ Fire is a key member of the Centre for Future Timber Structures devoted to research that will allow developing concepts for timber skyscrapers; characterising the fire dynamics associated with timber structures; assessing the fire performance of novel timber composite products; and characterising the structural response of timber in fire conditions.

UQ Fire research projects on timber include:

  • 'Fire performance of floor timber systems' led by Abdulrahman Zaben (PhD).

  • 'Exploring the self-extinguishment mechanism of cross-laminated timber in full-scale compartment fires' led by Hangyu Xu (PhD).

  • 'On the Fire Behaviour of Cross-Laminated Timber' led by Juan Cuevas (PhD).

  • 'Establishing the Pathway of Timber from Plantation to Construction – Incentives and Limitations' led by Diana Casimiro-Soriguer (PhD).

  • 'Self-extinguishment of Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) in Multi-Scale Compartment Fires' led by Carmen Gorska Putynska (PhD).

  • 'The Effect of Fuel Load Nature on the Self-Extinction of Mass Timber' completed in 2018 by Aidon Browning (BE-ME).

  • 'Biomimetic Approach to Timber and Treatments for Fire Performance' completed in 2018 by Andy Wong (BE-ME).

  • 'A composite FRP-Glulam beam with enhanced fire performance – Effects of depth' completed in 2018 by Sohan Roopra (BE-ME).

  • 'Fire exposure of facades in cross laminated timber buildings' completed in 2017 by Teagan MacDonald (BE-ME).

  • 'Fire exposure of facades in cross laminated timber buildings' completed in 2017 by Teagan MacDonald (BE-ME).

  • 'Novel timber-FRP composite for fire safe load-bearing systems' completed in 2017 by Harrison Wall (BE-ME).

  • 'Fundamentals for the Fire Design of Cross Laminated Timber Buildings' completed in 2016 by Dr Richard Emberley.

Bamboo

Similar to timber, bamboo as a construction material has many appealing characteristics, ranging from its ability to sequester carbon during growth and store it for the life of the building, its relatively high strength-to-weight ratio, ease of prefabrication, and high aesthetic value. UQ Fire is a leading researcher in this area and is actively working to provide knowledge on the potential of bamboo as structural material and its fire performance.

UQ Fire research projects on bamboo include:

  • 'Material Characterization and Fire Performance Assessment of Bamboo' led by Angela Solarte (PhD).

  • 'Structural Fire Performance of Modern Bamboo Structures' led by Mateo Gutierrez (PhD).

  • 'The Thermal Response of Laminated Bamboo under a Range of Incident Heat Fluxes' led by Ian Pope (PhD).

  • 'Mechanical properties of bamboo at elevated temperature' recently completed in 2017 Joshua Madden (BE-ME).

Intumescent Coatings

This research focuses on thin-intumescent coatings (or reactive coatings), at present the dominant passive fire protection used to protect structural steel from fire. These coatings swell on heating to form a highly insulating char, hence preventing steel from reaching critical temperatures that could cause structural failure. It has been verified that the current design method based on compliance to standard fire resistance tests has shortcomings. The main reasons are the fire-dependent nature of these organics materials and the large variety of products with different compositions available in the market.

UQ Fire research projects on intumescent coatings include:

  • 'Reliability of Intumescent Coatings used in Load-bearing Steel Structures' led by Andrea Lucherini (PhD).

    This research project aims at further investigating the different aspects influencing the effectiveness of intumescent coatings when subjected to a range of standard and non-standard fire exposures. Numerous specimens will be exposed to several time-histories of incident radiant heat flux using an array of high-performance radiant heaters (shown below). This novel methodology allows for the precise control of the thermal boundary condition imposed on test samples, and the accurate gauging of their thermal and physical response. This work will shed light in the possibility of a universal fire testing procedure and design methodology for intumescent coatings used in steel structures.

    Mid-scale Heat-Transfer Inducing System

    Mid-scale Heat-Transfer Rate Inducing System (H-TRIS) for studying the fire performance of thin-intumescent coatings

  • 'Effectiveness of intumescent coatings under a range of fire conditions' recently completed by Adam Segall (BE-ME).

  • 'Effectiveness of intumescent coatings under a range of heating conditions' recently completed by Nemer Abosamha (IMFSE).

Façades

In the last decades, several tall-buildings consisting of innovative external wall systems have been involved in disastrous fire events. The use of new products and systems including combustible materials as external walls represents a fire hazard in the built environment. This is essentially due to the lack of understanding and characterisation of the fire performance of these products, as well as methodologies and tools to assess their intrinsic fire hazard. At present many existing buildings have combustible façade systems for example including Aluminium Composite Panels made of two aluminium sheets bonded with a low density plastic core, or insulation materials.

UQ Fire research projects on façades include:

  • 'Material Library of Cladding Materials'
    The University of Queensland, in collaboration with the Non-Conforming Building Products (NCBP) Audit Taskforce in the State of Queensland (Australia), has proposed a framework to provide a robust methodology to assess the fire hazard of cladding materials in existing buildings based on a thorough understanding of the relevant fire phenomena. To enable this, a comprehensive material library with relevant fire performance criteria to assist the fire safety engineering community is being developed. The methodology is not intended to determine if any specific façade design is safe. It is intended to provide the data necessary for a competent fire safety engineer to conduct the analysis necessary to determine the safety of a façade system corresponding to a specific set of materials, a specific configuration and a specific building context. The methodology developed to build the Material Library consists of two testing protocols: a screening testing protocol that enables a quick testing turnout and quick identification of the product type, and a detailed testing protocol that enables the fire performance of the material to be characterised. The screening testing protocol aims at a material identification and assessment of the thermal decomposition, which is to be applied to every cladding material. The detailed testing protocol aims at characterising the heat of combustion, ignition, burning behaviour and flame spread of particular selected materials, thus delivering all the data necessary for a fire safety engineering to conduct a comprehensive assessment. Cross-referencing data from both protocol will allow a comprehensive characterisation of a wide range of materials.

  • 'Experimental study on the interaction of cladding materials in the fire performance of facades ' recently completed in 2018 by Brendan Garvey (BE-ME).

  • 'Fire performance of ACP facade systems' recently completed in 2017 by Joshua Ogilvie (BE-ME).

  • 'Predicting the Fire Performance of Aluminium Composite Panels (ACP) Systems in External Walls' led by Adeline P Teo (PhD).
    This research project aims at providing building designers, fire engineers and building authorities with a methodology to better understand the fire properties and performance of the ACP panels. An increased knowledge in the performance of ACP panels (i.e. material and system properties and failure mechanisms) will benefit the fire engineering community and the building industry as a whole.

Smouldering Combustion

Smouldering combustion is a new emergent technology, ideal for waste treatment with high moisture content, where incineration is not feasible. Due to the high-energy efficiency of the process, smouldering combustion can be self-sustaining at waste moisture content up to 75-80%. This technology is ideal to treat contaminated and harmful materials as the high temperatures ensure pathogen destruction.

Our research team applied smouldering combustion for the treatment of human faeces within the prestigious project 'Reinventing the Toilet Challenge' sponsored by The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. Current and future projects include the utilisation of the smouldering technology for nutrients and metal recovery

UQ Fire research projects on smouldering combustion include:

  • 'Waste to Value: Energy positive targeted resource recovery from sludge' ARC linkage led by Dr Luis Yerman.

  • 'Assessment of Smouldering as an Efficient and Low-Cost Alternative for Management of Agricultural Solid Wastes'.

  • 'Biochar production through smouldering combustion of biomass' led by Hons K. Wyn (OT).

  • 'Treatment of waste green plant materials by means of self-sustaining smouldering combustion' led by Sergio Zarate (OT).

Torero

Jose Torero, Head of School, demonstrating to Bill Gates UQ's submission to the Reinventing the Toilet Challenge

Reactor

Smouldering combustion reactor at UQ Fire Laboratory

Compartment Fires

The study of fire dynamics in compartments establishes the basis for the design of fire safety strategies in buildings. Despite the fact that the behaviour of compartment fires has largely been studied, the 'compartment fire' framework currently used for design is based on experimentation of cubic compartments of reduced floor area with low ventilation (Regime I fires). At present, open plan floor compartments are the norm in tall and new buildings, thus deeming the current design framework incomplete. UQ Fire works on a series of projects focused on modelling and analysing data from recent full-scale fire experimentation in open floor compartments with large ventilation (Regime II fires), which were developed by the University of Edinburgh:

Fire-Induced Concrete Spalling

While modern, high strength concrete outperforms normal strength concrete in nearly all performance criteria, it also displays a higher propensity for fire-induced concrete spalling when exposed to severe heating. Spalling occurs when the exposed surface of heated concrete flakes away in a more or less violent manner. Such spalling presents a serious concern in the context ofthe historical approach to fire safe design of concrete structures, where structural engineers typically rely on concrete’s inherent fire safety characteristics (e.g. non-combustibility, nonflammability, high thermal inertia). It has been widely shown that the inclusion of polypropylene (PP) fibres in concrete mixes reduces the propensity for heat-induced concrete spalling, although considerable disagreement exists around the mechanisms behind the fibres’ effectiveness.

UQ Fire works on bushfires research, with a main focus on the flammability of vegetation. UQ Fire research on bushfires include:

Modular Building Panels

  • 'Performance Assessment for Simultaneous Fire and Structural Design of Structural Insulated Panels' led by Aaron Bolanos (PhD).
    Structural Insulated Panels are a specific kind of sandwich panel consisting of a rigid insulation core bonded between two external face sheets. This kind of load-bearing prefabricated product serves as an integral component of walls, floors and ceilings and therefore its structural behaviour has been studied extensively. Fire performance, on the other hand, is a major concern mostly due to the combustible materials used as a core.
    The research work intends first to provide an evaluation of mechanical and fire-proofing qualities of the panels and most importantly, through the study of their failure modes, to generate a valid analysis methodology that can ultimately be used as tool for simultaneous structural and fire safety design of an specific kind of Structural Insulated Panel. This goal will be attained by creating a model that describes the evolution of the temperature-dependant parameters involved in the bending and compressive behaviour of the panels as they are exposed to a fire. .
  • SIP in bending

    Structural Insulated Panel bending test.

  • 'Building design optimization: integration of thermal and fire performance' completed in 2018 by Gerardo Soret (PhD).
    Traditionally thermal efficiency and fire safety capabilities of building component design alternatives has been assessed separately. Studies reveal that design improvements in one field could significantly lessen the performance of another. Thus, there is a need to investigate integrated assessment methodologies to attain optimized design solutions from where the best insulating properties for a particular geographical location is achieved together with adequate fire safety performance.
    This research project analyse existing building thermal efficiency models and characteristic parameters used to describe building component insulating capabilities. It is found that those based on a transient model allows for a more realistic building thermal efficiency assessment and includes relevant material properties for fire performance assessment allowing for the development of an optimised and integrated design assessment process.
    In order to assist building designers decision strategy, this study develops affordable integrated assessment methods based on numerical calculations complemented by small scale experimental procedures so that realistic and detailed performance assessment is achieved.

Numerical model.

Numerical model of temperature distribution of a wall assembly for a thermal efficiency assessment.

  • 'Optimised fire safe and energy efficient design of insulated assemblies using a multi-criteria approach' recently completed in 2017 by Pascale Vacca (IMFSE).

Fire Fighting Protective Clothing

Composites

UQ Fire collaborates with the UQ Composites Group in numerous projects aiming at the flammability characterisation and elaboration of fire design frameworks of novel composite materials.

Bushfires

UQ Fire works on bushfires research, with a main focus on the flammability of vegetation. UQ Fire research on bushfires include:

  • 'Physical and fire behaviour characterisation of bushland fuels' led by Sergio Zarate (PhD).
  • 'The role of moisture and the water cycle on the flammability of vegetation and risk of bushfires' led by Lutfi Ramadhan (PhD).

    This project is aiming to contribute to the fundamental knowledge of environmental and forestry sciences on wildland fires or bushfires phenomena by implementing the fire safety engineering (fire science) point of view. The main objective of the work is to observe and understand clearly the changes of moisture content, and its impact to the flammability of vegetation and risk of bushfires using a wide range of experimental scenarios and several Australian vegetation species.

Other Research Projects

Over the course of the year, UQ Fire runs a variety of student research projects. These frequently contribute to our wider research activities, but can also be self-contained, or be directed by the motivations of our industrial partners.

Research projects have included research on vehicle fires, testing for fire-fighter visibility, micro-gravity fire behaviour.