A £21 million award has been made to the University of Birmingham, as part of a capital investment by BIS to the UK Collaboratorium for Research in Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC), to build a National Buried Infrastructure Facility (NBIF).

The NBIF will enable scientists to test a variety of buried infrastructure systems at, or near to, full-scale to help them understand their physical and operational performance. This includes, for example, pipelines and cables, culverts and tunnels, road foundations and barrier wall systems.

This knowledge will provide the scientific evidence base to inform decisions on innovative engineering of new infrastructure systems, cost-effective maintenance and adaptation of existing infrastructures, and building in resilience to cities’ infrastructure systems in the face of increasing demands and the extreme events that are expected as the climate changes.

The NBIF consists of a new state-of-the-art building housing a 25m x 10m x 5m deep test pit for testing buried infrastructure systems, pipeline and small-scale structural testing rigs, material characterisation facilities, material storage and test assembly areas, and a visualisation suite and knowledge transfer centre. The award also enables a major upgrade to the University’s TRAIN Rig Facility, where scale-model testing of high speed train aerodynamics can be carried out.

The University of Birmingham leads research into ‘foresighting’ for cities, using a range of methods based on future scenarios. Understanding how people might live, work and play in cities in the future is important for civil engineers, who need to create an appropriate built environment that will facilitate this activity.

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said: 'From traffic congestion and floods to rising populations, our cities face big challenges that need innovative infrastructure solutions to keep services secure, low-cost, and effective. That’s why, as a One Nation Government, we are investing in this world-leading UK research network to develop new materials and engineering solutions that will deliver world-class infrastructure up and down the country.'

Professor Chris Rogers, Director of the new National Buried Infrastructure Facility, from the University of Birmingham’s School of Engineering, said, ‘The ground, which supports our physical infrastructure systems, is a resource capable of delivering multiple potential functions, both now and in the future. However this potential is rarely realised in the way we currently engineer our cities – we typically engineer with one function in mind, whether it is to provide strength or stiffness, enabling water to flow into drains, or stopping water flow across barriers, for example.’

He continued: ‘Radical transformations in engineering thinking and practice are needed if we are to protect and enhance the ground’s future multi-functionality while still being able to exploit it for immediate needs. Furthermore, this endeavour aims to support our cities and citizens into the far future, so our pioneering research into future scenarios will help guide our designs today.’

  1. The UKCRIC is a collaboration of 14 UK universities which aims to provide a knowledge base to ensure the long-term functioning of the UK’s transport systems, energy systems, clean water supplies, drainage and sewerage, waste management, and flood defences and the development of SMART infrastructures.
  2. UKCRIC is one of the largest collaborative research projects in the UK. Partners include: Bristol City Council, Network Rail, Mott MacDonald, Buro Happold, Atkins, National Grid, DfT, EDF and Thames Water.

For further information, contact Kate Chapple, Press office, University of Birmingham, tel 0121 414 2772 or 07789 921164.