The 2000s: Taiwan Highspeed Railway

Aug 31, 2022

The construction of the Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR for short) on Taiwan in the Republic of China from 2004 to 2006 proved to be a truly mammoth undertaking. It was the largest project in the history of MC up to that time – and the first test for its Z4 series of concrete admixtures based on polycarboxylate ether (PCE), these having been newly developed at the turn of the millennium.

The Taiwan High Speed Railway was built in a record time of just over two years
The Taiwan High Speed Railway was built in a record time of just over two years
© MC-Bauchemie 2022

The Taiwan High Speed Rail connects the two largest cities of the island republic: the capital Taipei in the north and the port city Kaohsiung in the south. When the new line – still considered one of the most challenging infrastructure projects worldwide – went into service at the beginning of 2007, the construction time spent by the project participants was just 27 months. By the end, more than 13 million m³ of concrete had been used on the approximately 350-kilometre-long line – an almost unbelievable effort, to which MC made a significant contribution in two construction phases involving more than 3 million m³ of concrete.

New demands on concrete formulation

Since the planned new railway line had to be routed through earthquake-prone areas, high-performance concretes were required for construction of everything from the bored piles, columns, supports and bridges, to the foundations, pillars and other route elements. They not only had to meet the exacting demands in terms of strength, but also offer a working period of 8 hours at temperatures of up to 40 °C. The concrete also had to be ready for use within a short time. In addition to the classic concrete admixture Muraplast FK 88, attention quickly turned to a trend-setting new development from MC: a polymer solution known as Z4 which had been developed just a few years earlier.

PCE research at MC

MC’s Research & Development department had been looking into the synthesis of polymers since the early 1990s. In 1994, Dr. Wolfgang Karl presented a prototype product formulation, and a contract manufacturer was initially tasked with its production. The booming construction industry of the time had an insatiable hunger for concrete – and the MC management believed it had a new product line offering great potential for growth. So they pressed on with the project. This led to the development of Z1 and ultimately to that of Centrament N 10, MC’s first PCE-based concrete admixture. The new product ensured better dispersion of economically dosed cement, guaranteed an improvement in the workability of the concrete and exerted a slight retarding effect. Z1 was well received by concrete producers, encouraging MC’s research effort to be stepped up. Further PCE-based products followed, culminating in the patented polymer compound Z4 in 2000.

Game-changing PCE solutions

An extensive programme of tests provided proof positive that Z4 would be ideal for use in the construction of the high-speed railway line in Taiwan. Thereupon MC developed a range of special concrete admixtures for the mammoth project tailored to the cements selected and the extreme climatic conditions likely to prevail. Thus Z4 provided the basis for an entire construction kit comprising ten different polymers. In order to be able to ensure the supply of the huge quantities of modern PCE admixtures to the gigantic planned construction site, a separate production company was established on the island of Taiwan on 25 July 2001, and MC-Bauchemie Taiwan has been operating there ever since. This new facility meant that the required admixtures could now be produced locally. MC-Bauchemie Taiwan subsequently supplied the various sites along the route with almost 10,000 tonnes of concrete admixtures over a period of two years, making the Taiwan High Speed Railway the largest single project in MC’s history. Its official opening on 5 January 2007 was thus not only a game-changer in terms of the infrastructure serving the island of Taiwan, but also for the PCE solutions from MC-Bauchemie.

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