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Economics of New-Technology Materials: A Case Study of FRP Bridge Decking.

pdf icon Economics of New-Technology Materials: A Case Study of FRP Bridge Decking. (3596 K)
Ehlen, M. A.; Marshall, H. E.

NISTIR 5864; 73 p. July 1996.

Available from:

National Technical Information Service
Order number: PB96-202353


breakeven analysis; building economics; construction materials; cost classifications; cost effective; cost estimation; economic methods; elemental classifications; engineering economics; engineering design; FRP composites; high performance materials; infrastructure investment; life cycle cost analysis; R&D expense; sensitivity analysis; spillover costs; user costs; value engineering


Many new materials are being developed from polymers, metals, and ceramics. Industry is beginning to introduce some of these high-performance or new-technology materials in construction and manufacturing applications because the materials have advantages over traditional materials like steel, concrete, wood, and aluminum. However, many high-performance materials have not been used in large-scale construction projects. Economic and Technical Barriers hinder industry's aggressive introduction of these new technologies despite their advantages over traditional materials. The primary economic barrier preventing the use of new technology material is their high initial cost. Regardless of how cost effective a material might be over the life cycle of the project, industry balks at high up-front costs, particularly when the life-cycle costs of a new material are relatively uncertain. This cost barrier inhibits construction applications of - and eventually research in - new materials. Yet the construction industry has many potential applications; for example, fiber-reinforced polymers (FRPs) and high-performance concrete and steel are technically viable substitutes for conventional bridge materials. FRPs are also likely candidates for use in marine structures and offshore oil rigs. Germany and Japan are leading the world in FRP use in construction; if U.S. companies are to remain globally competitive, they too will likely need to introduce new technology materials in their construction projects. To overcome this cost-based barrier to the adoption of new materials, the construction industry needs practical economic methods for evaluating alternative building and construction materials in a comprehensive and consistent manner. Providing a guideline for determining life-cycle cost effectiveness will give decision makers a tool to help them select, both for research and construction applications, those materials that will make firms competitive and help government agencies deliver the nation's infrastructure at minimum life-cycle cost. This report provides such a method for evaluating the life-cycle cost effectiveness of new-technology materials in relation to conventional materials. The method provides users with a tool that helps them choose that material among competing alternative materials that perform the required function at minimum life-cycle cost. This method can be used to satisfy the Intermodel Surface Transport Efficiency Act's requirement that life-cycle costs be considered in the design of transportation-related structures, and Executive Order 12893 which requires that the costs of federal infrastructure investment be accounted for over the life span of each project. The method is consistent with ASTM Standards for computing life-cycle costs. A three-level, hierarchical cost classification presents the types of costs that characterize the use of conventional and new-technology materials; this helps analysts identify all of the costs - including spillover costs to project users and others - that are appropriate for an economic analysis. An economic case study of bridge decks evaluates the use of three FRP materials as alternatives to conventional concrete. A sensitivity analysis shows how significant various cost items are toward making FRP composite decks economically competitive. Suggestions for further research in the economics of new-technology materials completes the report. The methods presented are equally applicable to non-construction materials and projects, as well as the evaluation of any capital budget expenditure as long as the performance of each competing alternative meets project requirements.