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Pergamon PII: SO360-1323(96)00051-0

Burlding and Enuironmenr, Vol. 32, No. 4, pp 375-380, 1997 0 1997 Elsevier Science Ltd All rights reserved Prmted in Great Bntam 036s1323/97 517.00+0.00

Development of Prototype Structure for Low-Cost and Energy-Efficient House by Utilizing Palm Tree Fronds

10 May 1995; accepted 7 August 1996)

Palm tree fronds (PTF) were utilized in building the prototype structure for a low-cost and energyefficient house. Selected configurations of PTF embedded in concrete in molds 160 cm long, 15 cm wide and 20 cm deep were cast, cured and then tested inJlexure after 28 days. The load reached at first cracking was 12.5 kN, the maximum load each beam could support before failure was 23.5 kN and no slippage of PTFfrom the concrete was noticed. The thermal conductivity of PTF was also determined in this work; it wasfound that PTFhas a thermal conductivity of 0.123 to 0.221 W/m C. The prototype building unit, in the form of a vault structure, was tested by applying successive vertical and horizontal loads and measuring the resulting deformation. When the vault was unloaded all the displacements disappeared after 0.5 h, indicating that deformation was elastic. Hence, the prototype structure was built safely by utilizing the suitability of the membrane structure of PTF. 0 1991 Elsevier Science Ltd.

INTRODUCTION THE limited range of materials available for construction at any time dictates the practical range of structural form and performance. It follows that current design methods, materials and construction techniques may not be suitable to meet the demands of particular environments. For instance, in the New Valley Governorate and the Western desert oasis of Egypt, where the temperature can reach 55C during summer, natural fibers such as palm tree fronds (PTF) can have very advantageous characteristics for building energy-efficient houses. Moreover, a huge amount of PTF results annually from pruning of the date trees in Egypt and this can be utilized to reduce the high cost of building materials, especially in developing countries. The effect of heat, plus the high cost and corrodability of steel reinforcement in concrete structures, make the available natural plant cellulose a desirable substitute. This investigation was motivated initially by the encouraging results of different experiments and tests performed on PTF [l-3], which have revealed the following characteristics. 1. Relatively high tensile strength, 185N/mm2, which makes PTF attractive as a replacement for steel reinforcement in the building of single-storey houses. Moreover, the addition of a random dispersion of small PTF fibers to concrete significantly improves the

strength, ductility and crack resistance of the resulting composite material. For example, the replacement of 0.25 wt% concrete by PTF fibers with a length of 36cm significantly improves the tensile strength of a concrete cylinder from 2.55 N/mm* for plain concrete to 4.19 N/mm* [3]. It is important to report here that one of the great advantages of the addition of PTF fibers to concrete, is to convert the sudden brittle failure of plain concrete in tension into a gradual and much more ductile failure, an advantage which would be appreciated in the design of buildings, houses or schools in regions with earthquake activity [47]. 2. High resistance to alkaline and acidic attack, which means that PTF would have high durability and would not corrode in concrete [3]. 3. Locally available, as a very cheap material, in a yield of about 300 000 tons of fronds every year as a result of the pruning process of palm trees which are everywhere in Egypt, making PTF attractive for use as an appropriate building material for low-cost housing in developing countries. The aim of the present work was to utilize the advantages listed above for PTF, by: investigating the possibility of using PTF (instead of steel) to reinforce concrete beams and to find ways to obtain an adequate bond; measuring the thermal conductivity of PTF to promote its use as an insulating material in the building industry; and building a prototype membrane structure and testing it by applying successive vertical and horizontal loads and measuring the deformation produced. 375

*Quality Assurance Department, Nuclear Safety and Regulatory Center, Atomic Energy Authority, P.O. Box, Cairo, Egypt.


hf. Samir Ahdel-Azim



160 cm

* Fig. 1. Schematic representation of PTF reinforcements

in a beam of dimensions 160cm x 20 cm x 15 cm.

Table 1. Mix proportions using Portland cement type I and gravel as aggregate

Ingredients 318in. Aggregate l/4 in. Aggregate l/S in. Aggregate Sand Cement Water

Weight (%) 25 I? 7 28 18 10

All test results are presented mention here that adequate between PTF and concrete, broke.

in Table 2. It is important to bond strength was observed and all PTF reinforcements


PTF-reinforced concrete barns Beams with the configuration shown in Fig. 1, using concrete with the mix proportions shown in Table 1, were cast in molds of dimensions 160 cm long, 15 cm wide and 20cm deep. Three types of beam were prepared. The first type (B,) was a plain concrete beam without PTF reinforcement. The second type used one configuration of PTF, and is indicated by B,; the third type comprised beams having two configurations of PTF, indicated by Bz in Fig. 2. The PTF reinforcements were carefully placed in the molds leaving almost 2.5cm between the reinforcement and every side of the mold as a cover thickness. Each beam was cured for 1 week after remolding by wetting with water. All beams were then stored in a shady place. The beams were tested 28 days after the day of casting. The beams were tested in flexure under two-point loading to obtain a region of pure bending with an Instron testing machine [8], with the objective of measuring the load at which the first crack appeared and the maximum load each beam could support. The test duration for each beam was about 20 min. No strain gages or dials were attached to the tested beams because deflections and strains were not needed for this investigation. Since the failure criteria of PTF-reinforced concrete beams are not yet set, the tests were terminated whenever the first crack became about I cm wide in each case. During each test an automatic load plot was performed by the machine which helped to determine exactly the load reached at first crack and the maximum load each beam could support during the entire test duration.
80 Bl 82

Drter??zination of the therma/ c,onductiritJ. of PTF plates col?ered with gypsum To measure the thermal conductivity of PTF, several plates measuring 20 cm x 20 cm were made by tying together PTF rods and then coated with gypsum. A plate of gypsum alone was made as a basis for comparison in order to relate the values of thermal conductivity obtained from the previous plates to the thermal conductivity of gypsum. A thermal conductivity measuring apparatus [9]. with two sides hot and cold as shown in Fig. 3, was used. The thermal conductivity was calculated as follows: Average plate thickness (Ax) = 20 mm = 0.02 m Length = width = 192 mm = 0.192 m Cross-sectional area (A) = (0.192)* m Average temperature on hot side (T,) = 122.3 C Average temperature on cold side (T,) = 32-C Mass flow rate of cooling water (Q) = 250 g/min = 4.166x 10 kg/s. The flow of thermal energy in a plate is expressed Fouriers law of conduction [9. IO]: q = -kdT/dX. where q = tlI4(dQ!dt) by



is the heat flux, or rate of flow. of thermal energy per units of area normal to the direction of the flow. K is the thermal conductivity, T is the temperature, and X is the distance measured in the direction of energy flow. Therefore [4]: -(KA)(dT/dX) Since dT,:dX = 122.3 - 3210.02, equation (3) yields a value for the thermal K ranging from 0.123 to 0.2 1 W/m C. conductivity = (l;A)(dQ/dt). (3)

Plain concrete no PTF

One PTF reinforcement

Two PTF reinforcement

Fig. 2. Cross-sections of various beams, minimum 2.5cm covered all around.

Testing ofthe building units of the prototype structure This section describes techniques of constructing the units of the main frame and the loading tests performed on it to study its structural performance. One unit of 1.2m of vault structure was built horizontally on the ground, using PTF, as shown in Fig. 4. The height and the opening span of the vault are both


Structure Utilizing Palm Tree Fronds

Table 2. Test results


Beam type

PTF reinforcement configuration Plain concrete One reinforcement Two reinforcements

Load at first crack (kN) 7.5 13.5 15.5


load (kN) 7.5 14.5 28.5

Observations This beam was made to be the basis for comparison with other beams No slippage. Reinforcement broke No slippage at all. Both fronds broke at maximum load

B, Bz


'h Cover

Cold water side

PTF plate 2-3 cm thi

Fig. 3. Schematic


of the thermal atus.



at which time the maximum deformation took place. The differential changes in the values of the horizontal and vertical angles were measured with the theodolite to the nearest 0.1 seconds of arc. This was done at the same setup of the theodolite to cancel the effect of plumbing its vertical axis. The deformations of the 13 points were then calculated to the nearest 0.02mm from the differential form of the coordinates. There was a follow-up of the deformation after removing the loads. This was done to determine the type of deformation, elastic or plastic. The loading process was chosen so as to represent the possible loading in normal application. Therefore, in addition to the pressure exerted by the Scm layer of mortar (giving a total load of 770 kg), a concentrated load of 125 kg was applied at the top of the vault to represent a live load. BUILDING OF THE PROTOTYPE STRUCTURE

The following lists the procedure structure.

to build the prototype

Fig. 4. Vault laid horizontally.

3m. Fixed vertical posts were used to control the verticality and straightness of the PTF walls. The vault was hoisted and turned upright, then its lower edges were supported by concrete footings. To obtain high structural rigidity and close any openings between the PTF, the vault was coated with a 5 cm thick layer of mortar composed of sand, cement, lime and PTF leaflet fibers. Testing of the structure was carried out by using vertical and horizontal loads, as shown in Fig. 5. Thirteen points were fixed in a vertical plane along the internal center line of the vault. The horizontal and vertical coordinates of these points in the vertical plane were determined by the theodolite (Fig. 6). Loading was carried out by using sand bags of known weight. The movements of the structure were followed with the theodolite for 0.5 h,

Foundation trenches were carefully dug 50 cm below ground according to the plan level. Up to - 20 cm of a plain concrete casting was left with an inner trench of 1Ocm width in which to place the PTF membrane structure, as shown in Fig. 7. A double-walled structure was built from white stone (calcium carbonate). Figure 8 shows the three-dimensional view of the prototype structure. Simple arches for the windows were constructed by using old car tires as formwork. This was attempted and found to be extremely easy to carry out, as shown in Fig. 9. The sides of the opening, which were the width of the tire, were erected up to the level at which the arch began. The tires were placed on a dry stack of bricks, such that the axis was in line with the top brick layer. Since the tires are flexible, their flexibility provided easy removal. Columns and beams reinforced with PTF were constructed and concrete casting was performed after the membrane structure was laid down. The PTF leaflets were split without damaging the stem. The building units of the membrane structure were built horizontally on the ground and then hoisted and laid down in the cavity between the double walls, to make the final shape shown in Fig. 9. The ceiling and the top were covered with mortar mixed uniformly with PTF leaflet fibers and lime. The advantages of adding lime to the mortar cement are as follows: as 20% of

Fig. 5. Loading

the vault horizontally.


M. Samir Abdel-Azim


Differential Differential

change in horizontal



change in vertical angle



da3 and dz,=m

Fig. 6. Coordinate system for 13 points

lime is much cheaper than cement; in plastering, lime is far superior to Portland cement, providing gentle surfaces which can deform rather than crack and help to control moisture movement and condensation; since the strength produced by cement is not always required (and sometimes can even be harmful for the membrane structure), lime mortar provides a cheaper and structurally more suitable substitute; and lime washes are not only cheap paint, but also act as a mild germicide. All the ends of PTF were immersed in and completely covered with lime and copper sulfate paste to protect against any fungi.

28.5 kN respectively, without slippage at all. This indicates the safe application of PTF in reinforcing concrete beams in the membrane structure to build single-storey houses. It was observed throughout all tests that all cracks occurred in the region of pure bending and that all cracks were vertical, indicating that the shear did not affect much the location or the slope of the cracks. This was taken into consideration when the mold dimensions were selected. It should be mentioned here that the PTF reinforcement configuration should be placed so that the thick end of one frond faces the thin end of another frond. tying them up with a wire at intervals of about 20cm to form one single reinforcement. This configuration is important for producing a good bond between the PTF reinforcement and concrete.


AND DISCUSSION Thermal conductivity of PTF The experiments carried out on PTF showed that its thermal conductivity is identical to that of wood, 0.123 to 0.22 W/m C. Keeping in mind the high cost of wood, PTF thus introduces a cheap and energy-efficient building material.

PTF-reinforced concrete beams Table 2 presents the flexural test results obtained in this investigation for PTF-reinforced concrete beams. The load-carrying capacity of the PTF-reinforced beams B, and BZ at first cracking was 13.5 and 15.5 kN, and the maximum load, before complete failure, was 14.5 and


100 cm Fig. 7. Foundation trench.


Behavior of the building units of the prototype structure wshen subjected to static loud After loading by the the above-mentioned method, the deformation of the membrane vault structure was only 0.4mm at the top of the vault, and after 30min of loading. The maximum horizontal deformation of 0.2 mm occurred at two-thirds of the total height. When the vault was unloaded, all the displacements disappeared after 0.5 h, indicating that deformation was elastic. It should be mentioned here that the addition of PTF leaflet fibers to the mortar layer improved the resistance to cracking and tensile strength of the mortar [3].

Prototype Structure Utilizing Palm Tree Fronds

CONCLUSIONS On the basis of the results, observations and experience accumulated throughout our previous investigations [l-3] and also from the present investigation, the following conclusions are drawn. 1. PTF stalks are capable of preventing sudden and brittle failures of plain concrete beams by preventing the rapid propagation of cracks.

The addition of PTF leaf fibers to plain concrete converts the sudden brittle failure of plain concrete in tension into a gradual and more ductile one. The good heat-insulating property of PTF makes it very attractive for building single-storey energyefficient houses, especially in desert regions. Finally, building the prototype from a membrane structure of PTF with a vault shape resulted in many advantages concerning weight, heat insulation and strength. AcknowledgementsThe author would like to thank Dr. Hashem El-Kolaly, Chairman of Kolaly Engineering Co., Cairo, Egypt, for his continuous support and encouragement to finish this work. The assistance of Engineer Hussam El-Gayar, who helped in all aspects of construction, is also gratefully acknowledged. The help and discussions of Professor A. T. Howarth, Head, Department of Building Studies, and Dr. 0. J. Ebohon, School of Built Environment, De Montfort University, U.K., are greatly appreciated.

_Fig. 9. The prototype building built at Inshas, Egypt.

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Samir Abdel-Azim, M., Palm tree fronds for concrete roof reinforcement. Concrete Internationnl, The American Concrete Institute Magazine, 1992, 14( 12). Samir Abdel-Azim, M., Application of palm tree fronds in building heat-insulating house. Proceedings of the International Seminar Building the Future, Brighton, U.K., April 1993. Samir Abdel-Azim, M., Durability of palm tree fronds fiber reinforcement. Concrete International, ACI Magazine, 1995, 17(6). Cook, D. J., Concrete and cement composites reinforced with natural fibers. Proceedings of Symposium on Fibrous Cements, London, April 1980. Takayuki, H., Use of continuous fibers for reinforcement concrete. Concrete International, ACI Magazine, 1992, 14( 12). Krenchel, H. and Jensen, H. W., Organic reinforcing fiber for cement and concrete. Proceedings of Symposium on Fibrous Cements, London, April 1980.

M. Samir Abdel-Azim
7. 8. 9. 10. Jany, H. V. Pre and post cracking deflection behavior of concrete beams reinforced with fiber. Proceedings gfBuilding the Future Seminar, Brighton, U.K., April 1993. ASTM, Test method for flexural strength of concrete (using simple beam with third point loading), ASTM C78-75. American Society for Testing and Materials, Philadelphia, PA, 1992. Incorpera, F. P. and Dewitt, D. P., Fundamentals of Heat Transfer. John Wiley, New York, 198 1. Hanks, R. W.. Materials Engineering Science, Vol. 9. Harcourt Brace and World Inc., U.S.A.. 1990.