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Mass Housing Using GFRG Panels: A Sustainable, Rapid and Affordable


Article · June 2017

DOI: 10.1007/s40030-017-0200-8


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5 authors, including:

Philip Cherian Shinto Paul

Indian Institute of Technology Madras Indian Institute of Technology Madras


Gouri Krishna S R Devdas Menon

Indian Institute of Technology Madras Indian Institute of Technology Madras


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J. Inst. Eng. India Ser. A (June 2017) 98(1-2):95–100
DOI 10.1007/s40030-017-0200-8


Mass Housing Using GFRG Panels: A Sustainable, Rapid

and Affordable Solution
Philip Cherian1 • Shinto Paul1 • S. R. Gouri Krishna1 • Devdas Menon1 •

A Meher Prasad1

Received: 13 January 2016 / Accepted: 6 June 2017 / Published online: 14 June 2017
 The Institution of Engineers (India) 2017

Abstract This work gives an overview of research and Introduction

development carried out at IIT Madras, using glass fibre
reinforced gypsum (GFRG) panels, to provide an innova- Reduction in the use of energy intensive construction
tive solution for rapid and affordable mass housing. The materials and speedy delivery of housing units at afford-
GFRG panels (124 mm thick), made from recycled able cost are the key challenges faced in the mass housing
industrial waste gypsum (from the fertilizer industry), are sector today. There is significant demand for construction
prefabricated in 3 m 9 12 m sizes with cellular cavities materials such as cement, steel, bricks and water in order to
inside, which can be filled with reinforced concrete wher- satisfy the large demand for housing and other infrastruc-
ever required and can be used as walls as well as floor ture. Scarcity and increasing costs of these materials call
slabs. The tests carried out (over the past 12 years) estab- for alternative affordable solutions to meet the tremendous
lish the performance of GFRG building systems to resist housing needs, particularly for the Economically Weaker
gravity and lateral loads as a load-bearing system (without Section (EWS) and Low Income Group (LIG) segments.
beams and columns) in multi-storeyed buildings up to 8–10 An innovative housing technology was recently developed
storeys, with adequate strength, serviceability, durability at IIT Madras through research works carried out on Glass
and ductility. A two-storeyed four-apartment demonstra- Fibre Reinforced Gypsum (GFRG) panels for over a dec-
tion building has also been successfully constructed in the ade in order to address this issue. The developed technol-
IIT Madras campus and presently a mass housing ogy promises rapid delivery of quality houses to the masses
scheme (40 apartment units) using this technology is being at an affordable cost, while also ensuring sustainability by
demonstrated at Nellore. A structural design code has also way of reduced energy consumption and usage of recycled
been approved by the Bureau of Indian Standards, based on waste as raw material.
the extensive studies carried out on GFRG building GFRG panels (commercially known as ‘Rapidwall’),
systems. made of high quality gypsum plaster reinforced with spe-
cial glass rovings, were first introduced in Australia in
Keywords Mass housing  Concrete infill  Load-bearing  1990. These light-weight panels were originally intended
Earthquake resistant for rapid wall construction as load-bearing walls. They are
now manufactured in India at Rashtriya Chemicals and
Fertilizers (RCF) Mumbai, and Fertilizers and Chemicals
Travancore (FACT) Ltd Kochi, to fixed dimensions of
12 m length, 3 m height and 124 mm thickness, with
hollow cavities inside, as shown in Fig. 1.
GFRG can be manufactured out of any kind of gypsum
& Devdas Menon such as flue gas gypsum, mineral gypsum, phosphogypsum
or marine gypsum, the production process requiring rela-
Department of Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of tively low energy. Natural gypsum was used as the raw
Technology Madras, Chennai, India material in Australia. India has almost 64 million tonnes of

96 J. Inst. Eng. India Ser. A (June 2017) 98(1-2):95–100

Fig. 1 GFRG panel—elevation

and cross-section

stockpiled gypsum waste generated at various fertilizer base, connected to the RC plinth beams below) were found
plants, with an addition of almost 2.5 million tonnes every to be sufficient to generate the desired shear capacity in the
year, and hence in India, the panels are made from pro- panels. A 5-storeyed model building, with GFRG walls and
cessed phosphogypsum. Thus, GFRG housing in India reinforced concrete slabs, was built at Shandong Univer-
promotes the reuse of industrial waste by-products, thereby sity, and tested under cyclic lateral loads. The test showed
reducing the dependence on conventional energy-intensive that the integral performance of the structure was very
and increasingly scarce materials. It is seen that GFRG good and the building had enough lateral load-carrying
building construction entails far less embodied energy capacity under seismic loading. The maximum displace-
(from the manufacture till the completion of construction), ment at the top storey and the maximum storey drift were
in comparison with the conventional construction using found to be well within limits [7]. Thermal comfort studies
brick, reinforced concrete or precast concrete [1]. Hence on the GFRG buildings done at the University of Putra
the United Nations Framework on Climate Change established improved thermal performance, as compared to
(UNFCC) has confirmed GFRG as a ‘green’ building conventional buildings [8].
material [2]. The initial research works in India were carried out at
SERC (Structural Engineering Research Centre) Chennai,
primarily using their shake table facility [9]. Single-s-
State of the Art toreyed GFRG model houses were constructed with dif-
ferent infill configurations (number of concrete infilled
Studies on GFRG panels were initiated in Australia at the cavities) and were subjected to shaking. It was seen that the
University of Adelaide, where experimental tests were buildings did not experience any failure under shaking of
carried out mainly for exploring the possibility of use of intensity equivalent to that of zone-V in India. Since 2003,
GFRG panels as walls resisting gravity and lateral loads. It a team of researchers of the Civil Engineering Department
was established that infilling the cavities with plain con- of IIT Madras has been constantly engaged in research and
crete of low grade enhanced the axial load carrying development of a building technology solution making use
capacity significantly. Moreover, addition of reinforcement of GFRG panels, for application in India as an affordable
inside the cavities was found to increase both the in-plane mass housing solution. In Australia, several buildings had
and out-of-plane bending capacities [3]. been built using the Rapidwall technology, where the
Some limited studies are reported to have been con- panels were used only as walls, resisting gravity loads. The
ducted at the Universities at Henan, Tianjin, Hong Kong floors were made of conventional RC (reinforced concrete)
and Shandong in China, and University of Putra in slabs. In India, unlike Australia, we need to deal with
Malaysia. Studies at Tianjin [4, 5] and Hong Kong [6] earthquake resistant design, as more than 50% of our
explored the shear behaviour of concrete infilled GFRG population lives in seismically prone areas of moderate to
wall panels and the effect of continuous reinforcement severe earthquakes. Hence, the GFRG building system had
inside the cavities respectively. The test results established to be designed to meet the requirements of the prevailing
that continuity of vertical reinforcement was essential to standards of seismic resistance in India. Extensive studies
generate the full capacity in flexure (applicable in the case had been conducted on the use of these panels as structural
of short walls in high rise buildings). In the case of single- members for all components of the building, including
or two-storeyed buildings, where the lateral shear demand earthquake resistant design and a detailed design method-
is relatively low, provision of ‘starter bars’ (at the wall ology had been developed. The IITM research (contributed

J. Inst. Eng. India Ser. A (June 2017) 98(1-2):95–100 97

by 5 PhD studies) extended the application of this product

for the entire building system—including floors, roofs and
staircases, with reinforced concrete embedded in every
third cavity, along with a layer of 50 mm thick screed
concrete on top, thus significantly reducing the consump-
tion of reinforced concrete in such construction. The use of
GFRG panels for walls, floors and staircases, appropriately
designed for composite action with reinforced concrete,
with tie beams at all the wall-floor junctions, provided for a
complete GFRG building system.

Mechanical Properties Fig. 2 GFRG floor slab with hidden reinforced concrete T-beam

Some of the important mechanical properties of GFRG properly designed. In the case of taller GFRG buildings, it is
building panel (for both unfilled panels and panels filled desirable to provide reinforced concrete walls below the
with concrete) are summarised in Table 1, based on tests plinth beams, with a suitable spread footing or raft below.
conducted at IIT Madras. Panels can be quickly installed with the help of cranes. The
location and spacing of the starter bars need to match with the
reinforcement in the wall panel cavities. Only minimal grade
Construction of Buildings using GFRG of concrete need to be infilled in the reinforced cavities. The
left-over cavities can be filled with quarry dust mixed with
The foundation for GFRG buildings can be based on con- 5% cement and water to provide solidity, facilitating nailing
ventional methods, depending on the local site conditions. on the walls. In the case of GFRG slabs, every third cavity
For low-rise GFRG buildings, it is sufficient to provide needs to be reinforced with a hidden reinforced concrete
simple masonry spread footings with a network of rein- beam and the entire system topped with 50 mm screed con-
forced concrete plinth beams on top, above which the crete, as indicated in Fig. 2. This acts as a hidden T-beam
GFRG wall panels can be placed (with ‘starter bars’ system, which can be designed as a one-way system for the
embedded in the plinth beams). If the depth of foundation is required strength for a given span and live loading. The span
high, the plinth beams can be framed to reinforced concrete of the GFRG slab is typically limited to 5 m, thereby cov-
pedestals that are provided with small isolated footings, ering the requirements of residential buildings.

Advantages and Applications of GFRG Buildings

Table 1 Mechanical properties of GFRG panels [10–12]
Sl. No. Mechanical property Nominal value The GFRG building system has a number of advantages
when compared to conventional system:
a Unit weight 0.44 kN/m2
b Uni-axial compressive 160 kN/m (unfilled) (a) High speed of construction;
strength 1310 kN/m (filled*) (b) Less built-up area for the same carpet area;
c Ultimate shear strength 21.6 kN/m (unfilled) (c) Recycling of industrial waste gypsum results in less
61 kN/m (filled*) embodied energy and carbon footprint;
d Water absorption 1% in 1 h, 3.85% in 24 h** (d) Significant reduction in the use of cement, sand, steel
e Fire resistance 2.3 h rating (unfilled) and water;
4 h rating (filled*)
(e) Excellent finishes of prefabricated GFRG panels for
- withstood 900–1000 C
all the walls, floors and staircases, eliminating the
f Co-efficient of thermal 12 9 10-6 mm/mm/ C
need for additional plastering;
expansion (f) Lower cost of structure due to savings in materials;
g Thermal resistance 0.36 m2K/W (unfilled) (g) Less energy consumption for heat-regulation of
h Sound transmission class 28 (unfilled) interior of buildings;
45 (filled*) (h) Less CO2 emission, compared to other conventional
building materials;
* All cavities of the panel were infilled with M20 concrete
(i) Significantly less building weight, contributing to
** With an improvement in formulation, current panels have water
savings in foundation and reduction in earthquake
absorption \2 %
loading in multi-storeyed construction;

98 J. Inst. Eng. India Ser. A (June 2017) 98(1-2):95–100

(j) No need for beams and columns in buildings up to Table 2 Results of axial load studies
8–10 storeys, which can be designed using the GFRG Cavity infill Eccentricity, Compressive
load-bearing system, where the walls (infilled with mm strength,
reinforced concrete) act as shear walls. kN/m

The applications of GFRG panels include the following: Unfilled 0 132.3

M20 concrete 1156.9
• Light-weight load bearing walls capable of resisting
M20 concrete with 2–12 mm diameter 1078.4
gravity and wind loads; bars in each cavity
• Infill/partition walls for framed structures; Unfilled 20 112.7
• Compound walls; M20 concrete 637.2
• Shear walls resisting earthquake load;
M20 concrete with 2–12 mm 539.2
• Floor/roof slabs. dia bars in each cavity
The design details of GFRG panels as shear walls for
earthquake resistant design of GFRG buildings under dif-
ferent seismic zones, as well as the structural design of
floor/roof slabs are available in the Design Manual pub- Table 3 Results of lateral cyclic load studies
lished by Building Materials and Technology Promotion Width Reinforcement Axial Ultimate Ductility
Council (BMTPC) [10]. of load, shear ratio
panel, kN/m strength,
mm kN/m

Research and Development Works at IIT Madras 1020 2–12 mm dia bars in 0 49 5.2
each cavity—all 100 61.5 4.6
cavities, infilled
The initial R&D works at IIT Madras included assessing with M20 concrete
300 61.9 5.8
the strength and behaviour of GFRG panels under con- 2020 100 60 10.2
centric and eccentric axial loads, and in-plane monotonic
and cyclic lateral loads. Tests were carried out on unfil-
led, concrete infilled and RC infilled slender GFRG wall thus rendering them suitable for multi-storeyed construc-
panels (of 3 m standard height) to arrive at the axial load tions in seismic prone regions. It is seen that the presence
carrying capacity of the panels under both ends pinned of axial loads enhances the shear strength considerably.
boundary condition. Failure invariably occurred by But change in axial load does not have any effect on the
buckling in concrete and RC infilled slender wall panels shear strength, because of the longitudinal joint and
and crushing at top and bottom in unfilled panels, and weakness present inside the wall. The cyclic load test
hence only minimal grade of concrete needs to be infilled results are summarised in Table 3.
inside the cavities. It was seen that the infilling concrete Studies were also conducted on the use of RC infilled
inside the cavities increased the axial load capacity sig- GFRG panels as slabs subjected to gravity loads. The tests
nificantly while the addition of reinforcement did not revealed that although it is conservative to ignore the
have any effect. An improved method was proposed that contribution of GFRG in the structural design of the rein-
accurately predicted the axial load carrying capacity of forcement in the slab, the composite action enhances the
panels [11]. The test results are summarised in Table 2. flexural strength by at least 10%, besides enhancing the
RC infilled GFRG wall panels were also tested under stiffness significantly (satisfying serviceability limits).
in-plane lateral loads (and varying levels of axial com- A typical room of a GFRG building was constructed,
pression) to assess their behaviour under shear and flex- and subjected to lateral cyclic loads at the roof level to
ure. Design charts for axial load-moment interaction assess the behaviour of the wall-slab connection under
curves were developed, which could predict the in-plane seismic loading [14]. The test revealed the capacity of the
bending capacity realistically, under various axial loads. connection to resist lateral loads of high intensity without
These design charts help in the structural design and any joint failure, rendering such connections suitable for
detailing of longitudinal reinforcement in the GFRG wall constructing buildings up to 10 storeys in moderate seismic
panels (of various lengths) in multi-storeyed buildings, zones. Presently, studies are being conducted at IIT
provided they satisfy the shear demand requirements [11]. Madras, exploring the possibility of open ground storey
Detailed studies on the cyclic lateral load tests on GFRG construction in GFRG buildings to facilitate open parking
wall panels showed excellent ductility characteristics of spaces, which is in high demand in urban environments. In
GFRG panels, comparable to RC shear walls [12, 13], this regard, experimental as well as numerical

J. Inst. Eng. India Ser. A (June 2017) 98(1-2):95–100 99

investigations are currently being carried out to study the GFRG Demo Building Inside the IIT Madras
behaviour of the interaction of RC frame at the ground Campus
floor and GFRG panels for the upper floors.
Durability studies on GFRG panels revealed that a With the idea of demonstrating this building system using the
special primer needs to be applied on the GFRG panel technology developed, a two-storey GFRG demonstration
surfaces in order to enhance the abrasion resistance and building was constructed at the IIT Madras campus, on a built-
hardness of the panel material to withstand extreme up area of 184 m2 as shown in Fig. 3. It is a model housing
exposure conditions, and that the panels applied with this apartment, combining four flats (two for the economically
primer can ensure prolonged life of the buildings. weaker section and two for the lower income group), which
Based on the research work carried out at IIT Madras can be replicated for mass housing, vertically and horizon-
and the research reported elsewhere (Australia and China), tally. The entire superstructure was completed and rendered it
Building Materials and Technology Promotion Council fit for occupation within 29 days after the laying of the
(BMTPC), Government of India, has accorded approval of foundation. Use of GFRG panels facilitated not only fast
GFRG panels for construction in India. However, to construction but also reduced labour requirements. A com-
facilitate such construction, it was felt necessary to bring parison of the cost of this building with a conventional
out appropriate design and construction manuals that meet building of the same plan showed that the demo building was
the statutory requirements of relevant Indian Standards, 25% cheaper when compared to the latter. The thermal per-
and this work had been entrusted to IIT Madras. A ‘‘GFRG/ formance of this GFRG demo building was analysed through
Rapidwall Structural Design Manual’’, prepared by IIT field measurements. In situ thermal measurements showed
Madras, was published by BMTPC in 2011 for practising that GFRG demo building was around 2 C cooler when
Engineers [10]. Subsequently, a ‘‘Manual of Waterproofing compared to a just adjacent conventional building during the
of GFRG/Rapidwall Structures’’, describing the method- harsh summer.
ology of waterproofing to be adopted for GFRG buildings
and ‘‘Schedule of Items and Rate Analysis for GFRG GFRG Demo Mass Housing Construction at Nellore
Construction’’, for use by various Departments of the
Government for GFRG building construction, were pub- In order to demonstrate the application of the technology to
lished by BMTPC [15, 16]. Further, a draft BIS (Indian mass housing, a new project involving the construction of
Standard) code titled, ‘‘Code of practice for design of Glass 40 units of housing in five two-storeyed blocks, sponsored
Fibre Reinforced Gypsum (GFRG) Panels for buildings’’ by BMTPC, is presently under construction (Fig. 4). The
has been approved, and expected to be published soon. design and construction is being supervised by IIT Madras

Fig. 3 Construction of GFRG

demo building at IIT Madras

100 J. Inst. Eng. India Ser. A (June 2017) 98(1-2):95–100

Fig. 4 Mass housing project at

Nellore, Andhra Pradesh

and the project is expected to be successfully completed in 3. Y.-F. Wu, M. P. Dare, J. Compos. Constr. 8, 569 (2004)
3 months. 4. K. Liu, Y.-F. Wu, X.-L. Jiang, Mater. Struct. 41, 649 (2008)
5. X.-L. Jiang, Y. Gu, in Ninth Can. Conf. Earthq. Eng. Ottawa
(Ontario, Canada, 2007), pp. 1234–1242
6. Y.F. Wu, Eng. Struct. 26, 1633 (2004)
Summary 7. Z. Kaozhong, X. Zhang, T. Wei, Full-Scale Model Test Research
on the Performance of a Five-Storey Fiber Plaster Board Building
(Jinan, China)
GFRG buildings provide a viable solution, addressing the 8. M.P. Davis, S. Shanmugavelu, N.N. Azian, A.S.N.Y. Abdullah,
urgent need to provide affordable mass housing in India. R. Pitt, S. Wong, A New Building System for the Construction of
The material is environmentally friendly, as it utilises Thermally Comfortable, Energy Efficient Houses in the Malay-
industrial waste and the construction minimises the usage sian Humid Tropics (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 2000)
9. K. Muthumani, N. Lakshmanan, S. Gopalakrishnan, T.S. Krish-
of scarce and energy intensive materials such as cement, namurthy, B. Sivarama Sarma, K. Balasubramanian, N.
sand, steel and water. This technology developed by IIT Gopalakrishnan, K. Sathish Kumar, B.H. Bharat Kumar, R. Sree
Madras has been well demonstrated and the design pro- Kala, S. Avinash, Evaluation of Seismic Performance of Gyp-
cedure is now being codified. With increased production of crete Building Panels (Chennai, India, 2002)
10. Indian Institute of Technology Madras, GFRG/Rapidwall Build-
GFRG panels across the country, this technology can serve ing Structural Design Manual (Building Materials & Technology
as a sustainable solution for the ‘housing for all’ mission of Promotion Council, Ministry of Housing & Urban Poverty
the Government of India. Alleviation, Government of India, 2011)
11. R.L. Sreenivasa, Strength and Behaviour of Glass Fibre Rein-
Acknowledgements The authors would like to thank Indian Institute forced Gypsum Wall Panels, Indian Institute of Technology
of Technology Madras, Department of Science and Technology, Madras, 2010
Government of India, Indo-French Centre for the Promotion of 12. M. Janardhana, Cyclic Behaviour of Glass Fibre Reinforced
Advanced Research (IFCPAR), India, Building Materials and Tech- Gypsum Wall Panels, Indian Institute of Technology Madras,
nology Promotion Council (BMTPC), India, Rashtriya Chemicals and 2010
Fertilizers (RCF) Ltd., Mumbai, India, FACT-RCF Building Products 13. M. Janardhana, P. Robin Davis, S.S. Ravichandran, A.M. Prasad,
Ltd. (FRBL), Kochi, India and Rapid Buildings Systems (RBS), D. Menon, Earthq. Eng. Eng. Vib. 13, 347 (2014)
Australia, for their continued support throughout this research work. 14. Indian Institute of Technology Madras, New Building Sytem for
Affordable Mass Housing Using Glass Fibre Reinforced Gypsum
(GFRG) Panels - A Project Report Submitted to the Department
of Science and Technology (2016)
References 15. Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Manual on Waterproofing
of GFRG/Rapidwall Buildings (Building Materials & Technol-
1. R. Omahen, Ecologically Sustainable Development: Approaches ogy Promotion Council, Ministry of Housing & Urban Poverty
in the Construction Industry (Master of Economics Thesis), Alleviation, Government of India, 2015)
Faculty of Economics, University of Regensburg, Regensburg, 16. Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Schedule of Items & Rate
2002 Analysis for GFRG Construction (Building Materials & Tech-
2. AMS-III.BH, Small-Scale Methodology - Displacement of Pro- nology Promotion Council, Ministry of Housing & Urban Poverty
duction of Brick and Cement by Manufacture and Installation of Alleviation, Government of India, 2015)
Gypsum Concrete Wall Panels (United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change, 2013), pp. 1–13


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