https://insideDIO.blog.gov.uk/2016/07/05/chemical-demolition-at-raf-marham-for-f35s/

Chemical Demolition at RAF Marham for F35s

I’m Lt Col Grant Kerr, a Royal Engineer Professionally Qualified Officer posted to the DIO.  My initial role was as a Requirements Manager for 12 months. However, since August 2015 I have been a Project Manager within our Major Projects team working on the Lightning project. This will provide part of the new infrastructure necessary to support the RAFs new F-35B Lightning aircraft at RAF Marham. F-35B planes will also operate from the Royal Navy's new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.

Lightning Infrastructure

Things have moved on from David Salmond’s blog in April and the enabling work packages are well underway. Part of these works is the demolition of redundant hardened buildings to allow later works packages to deliver office and technical facilities, aircraft shelters, servicing platforms, training facilities and aircraft operational surfaces.

Demolition of the structures has been by both conventional means and the chemical demolition technique. [Crown Copyright/MOD2016]
Demolition of the structures has been by both conventional means and the chemical demolition technique. [Crown Copyright/MOD2016]
However, this demolition is not as straight forward as it may seem.  The hardened structures, designed specifically to protect personnel and equipment from attack, are heavily reinforced with wall thicknesses up to 1.4m in depth. Traditional demolition methods using hydraulic breakers and munchers are effective, but slow.

Speedy Demolitions

To speed the process up, our Principal Contractor Balfour Beatty and their Sub-Contractors Anglian Demolition are using a new chemical demolition technique called Autostem. We believe it is the first commercial use of this technique in the UK.

The primary use of Autostem is to rupture the concrete to separate it from the reinforcement and create fissures which can be exploited by secondary hydraulic breakers and munchers. The technique involves drilling holes into the concrete, inserting the Autostem cartridges.

Autostem capsules are places in holes drilled in the wall. [Crown Copyright/MOD2016]
Autostem capsules are places in holes drilled in the wall. [Crown Copyright/MOD2016]
You then retreat to a safe distance and with the press of a button, a chemical reaction is caused which releases a expanding gas, cracking the concrete. Not only does this significantly speed up the demolition process but also reduces the size of the plant required for the secondary breaking.

As a Royal Engineer I’m used to loud bangs, but this one was a little louder than expected!  However, with Autostem there is no mass explosion, thus no flying debris which is clearly an advantage on a live airfield when what we call Foreign Object Debris is a concern and a danger to people, equipment and aircraft.

It is vital to avoid any debris reaching the airfield and precautions are being taken to prevent this. [Crown Copyright/MOD2016]
It is vital to avoid any debris reaching the airfield and precautions are being taken to prevent this. [Crown Copyright/MOD2016]
Whilst the demolition works are ongoing, other members of the Anglian Demolition team are working on the remains of the buildings separating the chunks of concrete from the steel reinforcement.  This concrete is then crushed for fill material to be used in later works packages on the project, a sustainable bonus we’re all quite proud of.

The steel is separated from the concrete. [Crown Copyright/MOD2016]
The steel is separated from the concrete. [Crown Copyright/MOD2016]
Work is progressing well and though I’m moving on shortly to another role, I’ll be keeping a close eye on this as it’s been an interesting project. Successful and timely completion of all the Lightning works packages is crucial to ensuring that F-35s arrive at Marham on time and the UK has a first class fleet of Lightning aircraft to support UK Defence Capability.

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4 comments

  1. Comment by Col Rattan posted on

    Excellent Technology No shock waves no damage to surroundings

    Reply
  2. Comment by Robert Parsonage posted on

    This might explain the choking chemical smell which is spreading around north Norfolk. It is definitely coming from Marham and was worst in the early parts of 2019.
    It has got into the rainwater and therefore the water butts.
    It has been reported to Environmental Health, but they cannot do anything because the site is a military one.
    The odour seems to be heavier than air, and spreads along the ground. It has been detected as far as Hunstanton when the wind was from the south, Castle Acre, Swaffhan and, Necton when from the west, and presumably Kings Lynn with the easterlies.
    It might be a good idea for removing the concrete, but poisoning an entire county? One can only feel for the military who have to work in this environment, and for whom it must be appalling.

    Reply
    • Replies to Robert Parsonage>

      Comment by DIO Communications Team posted on

      Hi Robert

      Thanks for your post. However, this technique was used for the demolition in 2016 so it does not explain what you are experiencing in 2019.

      Reply
  3. Comment by Robert Parsonage posted on

    Many thanks for the reply. I didn't even know my comment had been successfully posted, but I'm pleased it was.

    One one particularly bad day, I drove through the village, and the air was choking. Are the people on the Marham site aware of it, and is there anything they can do? There must be something else being used there, which is spreading along the ground.

    It remains a mystery.

    Reply

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