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Precast Concrete in Civil Engineering

2 Precast Concrete
in Civil Engineering

Advantages of precast concrete 4
Cost and programme 4
Performance in use 5
Sustainability 5

Geotechnical applications 6
Foundation systems and underpinning 6
Retaining walls 7

Waste and water engineering 8

Box culverts 8
Pipeline systems 9
Manholes and inspection chambers 10
Permeable paving 11

Maritime, coastal and offshore 12

Transportation and infrastructure 14

Paving 14
Bridges 15
Tunnels 16
Gantries 17
Barriers 18
Rail products 19
Utility boxes 19
Kerbs 20
Wind 20

Maximising the benefits

of precast concrete 21
Production 21
Site erection 21
More information 22

References 23

Cover pictures:
Front: Precast concrete tunnel linings. Photo courtesy of Tarmac;
Inset top: Ballingdon Bridge, Suffolk; Inset bottom: Precast concrete pipes.
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An extensive range of precast concrete products is
available for civil engineering applications. Concretes
inherent durability and the quality of factory produced
elements, together with their speed of erection, makes
precast concrete components ideal for many challenging
environments. From aggressive ground conditions or
possession time constraints to limited on-site storage
or aesthetically demanding finishes, precast concrete
elements provide economic and durable solutions.

Precast concrete products make a significant contribution to the built

environment; they are widely used in public and private sector projects of
all sizes, from major civil engineering infrastructure projects through to the
civil engineering needs of commercial and residential projects. The precast
concrete industry produces over 38 million tonnes of products annually
for the UK construction sector, worth in excess of 2.5 billion. Around 800
precast concrete factories located across the UK provide direct employment
for over 22,000 people, and many further jobs in related industries.

Precast products are made to consistent, high quality standards using a

combination of advanced design technology, skilled labour and a variety
of manufacturing processes. Mass produced products range from small
hydraulically pressed items such as precast concrete paving blocks to larger
wet-cast items such as pipes, box culverts, piles, retaining walls and bridge

Precast concrete is widely specified for many reasons. Concretes versatility,

durability, cost-effectiveness and sustainability credentials make the
material an outstanding choice for a wide variety of applications. The
control exercised over the precast production process in the off-site factory
guarantees quality and durability. Precast elements offer excellent surface
finishes, consistency of colour and high standards of dimensional tolerances.
Off-site manufacture also enables the use of important construction
techniques such as pre-tensioning.

Deploying precast concrete elements keeps construction sites clear and safe
and permits fast construction.

This document offers engineers an awareness of the range of applications

for precast concrete available in the civil engineering sector. Detailed design,
specification and construction information should be sourced from the
4 Precast Concrete
in Civil Engineering

Advantages of precast concrete

The use of concrete whether precast or ready-mix, offers many inherent benefits. Concretes strength, durability, fire
resistance and aesthetic qualities make it a truly versatile product.

Cost and programme

Efficiency Quality control
Precast concrete products are delivered to site ready to install. There is Precast products are produced in a factory environment allowing high levels
no need to apply additional fire protection as concrete is completely of quality control and uniformity. Conditions found on site which may
non-combustible, eliminating time consuming processes and reducing the affect quality, such as the weather and ambient temperature, are eliminated
number of trades on site. in an off-site factory.

Site storage is eliminated as precast elements can be stored at the factory High quality finishes
and delivered just-in-time. A wide choice of finishes are available to the designer, through a range of
finishing techniques, including:
Precast elements are designed so that each element can be placed or Acid etched
erected quickly and efficiently using standard lifting equipment. Surface retarded and washed-off
The modular nature of many precast concrete products allows structures Abrasive blasted
or systems of virtually any size to be constructed. Precast elements can be Bush hammered
delivered ready clad, if required, to save time on site and reduce further the Mechanically polished
number of following trades and save costs.
Sample finishes, available from many producers, can be used as a
Reduced weather dependency benchmark for the project requirements.
Precast concrete aids efficiency of construction as bad weather will not
delay production. Precast products arrive on site ready to use, requiring no Consistency of concrete supply
further treatment. Consistency of material colour and texture is important for architectural
precast concrete. Precast factories have dedicated concrete supplies
Availability ensuring there is consistency of supply. A consistent product will always be
Precast concrete products are generally readily available from factories produced as the same moulds are reused time and time again.
located around the UK. Bespoke units, made to order, can also be
manufactured by many suppliers but these will clearly require additional Reduction of waste
lead time to allow for design and manufacturing of the units. The use of precast concrete can significantly reduce waste [1] and reduce
the need for temporary works.
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Performance in use
Durability elements, not only reducing the carbon footprint (see Table 1) of the
The nature of concrete and the control which is exercised in a factory element but enhancing its durability.
environment can increase the durability of precast concrete products, as
recognised in BRE Special Digest 1 [2]. For example, concrete pipes have The materials which are used to make precast concrete are local and
been found in a serviceable condition after 100 years of use. plentiful in the UK. In fact, the UK is self-sufficient in concrete and is able to
produce almost all the concrete it needs domestically. This self-sufficiency
Inherent fire resistance enhances concretes sustainability by minimising the need for transport,
reducing costs and resulting CO2 emissions and supporting the UK economy
Concrete is completely non-combustible (classified as an A1 fire resistant
material under EN 13501-1[3]), has a slow rate of heat transfer, making it
The precast industry is taking steps to encourage resource efficiency and
a highly effective barrier to the spread of fire and it does not lose structural
design out waste throughout the manufacturing process. A WRAP research
capacity as quickly as other materials in a fire. Precast concrete elements,
project [1] indicated that the use of precast concrete could reduce waste
such as tunnel linings, can be manufactured with polypropylene fibres
by 20-50 per cent. Less than one per cent of material used in the precast
incorporated into the mix to increase the resistance to spalling in a fire [4].
concrete manufacturing process is sent to landfill. Furthermore, making
better use of natural resources makes good business sense. The Landfill
Health and safety
Tax penalises poor use of materials, so companies that waste more, will
Operating safely is a key priority for the precast industry. Off-site pay more. Using precast products manufactured off-site minimises on-site
manufacturing of precast concrete increases the amount of work that waste disposal cost.
can be undertaken in factory controlled conditions, providing a safe
environment for the workforce. The inherent properties of concrete contribute to the sustainable agenda for
any project. For example, the thermal mass provided by a concrete structure
Precast concrete elements must always be erected/installed using can be utilised to significantly lower whole life energy requirements of
the manufacturers recommended installation details, equipment and commercial and residential buildings [7,8]. Precast concrete permeable
instructions, and in accordance with all relevant health and safety paving can help reduce flood risk when used as part of a sustainable urban
regulations, relevant codes of practice and national and European drainage scheme (see page 11).
regulations, including the Construction (Design and Management)
Regulations 2007.

It is vital that the precast concrete element manufacturer and others

responsible for site safety are involved in drawing up any method
statements required prior to erection/installation. Due to the variety of Sustainable reasons to use concrete
large, heavy, standard and bespoke elements available, it is not possible
99.98 per cent of aggregates needed to make concrete are
to give generic guidance on the site installation in this publication. It is
sourced from within in the UK, with 80 per cent available
essential that all operatives involved in placing and erecting of precast
within 30 miles of any site
concrete elements are sufficiently well trained and have the necessary
The UK produces 90 per cent of its cements
competence certification.
UK manufactured reinforcing steel is made from 100 per cent
UK-sourced recycled scrap
Concrete can use by-products from other industries, including
Sustainability fly ash and ground granulated blast furnace slag (ggbs)
Concrete is 100 per cent recyclable
Sustainability is about ensuring that development meets the needs of the Concrete is a local material, supporting local economies and
present generation, without compromising the ability of future generations reducing transportation emissions
to meet their own needs [5].

The precast concrete industry has become more sustainable in the way it
operates, taking responsibility for the resources consumed, the impact on Table 1: Typical embodied CO2 content of concrete with different
the environment and its relationship with society. This culture is leading cement types*
to a more sustainable precast industry: one which produces more outputs
Cement type Strength class CO2 (kg/t) CO2 (kg/m3)
from fewer inputs, is more efficient with less waste and has more trained
staff who are at less risk. Members of British Precast have signed up to a
sustainability charter in which they commit themselves to continue to CEM I RC32/40 153 372
improve their sustainability performance and profile. Further information on
the sustainable benefits of precast concrete, can be found in the Little Green CEM IIB-V RC32/40 130 317
Book of Concrete [6]. (30% fly ash)
CEM IIIA RC32/40 97 236
By designing products carefully and ensuring that they have a high recycled
(50% GGBS)
and reuse content, precast companies are meeting their obligations to
use natural resources wisely. Increasingly, companies are using secondary
products such as fly ash (a by-product from the generation of electricity) *Figures assume an average level of reinforcement of 100kg/m3 of concrete.
and slag (a by-product from steel manufacturing) in precast concrete
6 Precast Concrete
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Geotechnical applications
Whether its for foundations or retaining walls, concrete is ideally suited to applications in the ground. Concrete can be
designed to resist the effects of aggressive chemical environments found in both natural ground or brownfield locations [2].

Foundation systems and underpinning

Precast concrete foundation systems range from standardised pile and
ground beam systems to the manufacture of bespoke precast ground
Case study: Odyssey Millennium Complex, Belfast
beams, pile caps and bearing pads. The standard systems are principally
used in the new build residential housing market, with bespoke designed The 56m Odyssey Millennium complex, one of the largest precast
and manufactured elements for the commercial and heavier civil concrete piling schemes ever carried out in Ireland, contains a
engineering sector. 12,000-seat covered sports arena, cinema, shopping pavilion and
science centre.
The Odyssey was constructed on a partially reclaimed city centre
Precast concrete piles are used in the construction of foundations for a wide site, formerly part of the Harland & Wolff shipyard. Much of the
range of different structures in the civil engineering and building sectors. strata underlying Belfast are comparatively easy to drive piles into.
As precast piles are suitable for all applications and ground conditions, However the Odyssey site comprised a variety of layers including
they provide a very cost-effective piling solution. They are quick to install five to six metres of upper sand which was not consistent enough
without producing spoil or arising material in the process, providing a to ensure all the piles would provide firm support. The enormous
scale of the 1.2m piling sub-contract, involving around 55,000
further saving on waste disposal costs.
linear metres of concrete piles, posed a logistical challenge,
requiring a continuous, cost-effective supply of concrete piles for
Factory production techniques, using high performance precast concrete the high speed installation rigs.
and rigid reinforcement cages, means that precast concrete piles can
tolerate high loadings. Generally, design safety factors for piling are taken to A variety of piling options were assessed. The precast pile solution
be in the range of 2.0 to 3.0. It is normal to use safety factors at the lower proved to be the fastest and most cost-effective foundation
end of the range for precast concrete piles because: method, also offering the benefit of no spoil removal. The precast
concrete pile sections were manufactured locally as a cost-
Enhanced quality control procedures operable in the factory effective and sustainable alternative to transporting them to
manufacturing environment. Belfast from England.

A total of 2,475 precast piles were installed by three hydraulic

The ability of a full product inspection to ensure that no defects are
drop hammer rigs. Some of the piles were pre-drilled to depths
present prior to installation of the pile. of 10m-12m to drive them through the upper sand layer. After
pre-drilling, the piles were pitched and driven through the clay
Precast piles are generally top driven into the ground using hydraulic drop into the lower sand. The piles, designed for compressive working
hammers. Sound levels from modern drop hammers are comparable to loads of up to 1000kN, were arranged in singles or groups of up
other piling systems such as continuous flight auger (CFA). Noise during to 12, with the majority positioned in groups of three, four and
piling can be further reduced by shrouding the drop hammer. The variety five piles. The 300mm square precast piles ranged in length from
of segment lengths available, along with specialist piling equipment makes 18m to 24m. They were made up of combinations of standard
precast piles particularly suited to restricted access and low headroom sites. single bar reinforced 3m and 4m precast segments that were
quick and easy to join together to form the required length, and
specially reinforced top modules. Up to 1,000 linear metres of
concrete pile per day were delivered to the site, with an on-site
Precast mini-piles and precast concrete beams can be used for underpinning stock also available to match the speed of installation. With the
existing wall foundations to repair and improve the stability of housing rigs operating from five to seven ten-hour shifts per week, pile
and structures. Specialised installation techniques and equipment has been installation reached a peak of 4,500 linear metres per week.
developed to enable underpinning to take place in areas of difficult and
restricted access with minimal disruption to the buildings occupants, and to Client: Odyssey Trust.
Joint venture contractors: Farrans Construction and Gilbert Ash NI
any neighbouring buildings.
Foundation piling design and installation: Roger Bullivant Ltd
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Retaining walls
Precast concrete retaining and crib walls are quick and easy to construct Inverted Y walls
with minimum labour. They have a multitude of applications within civil Inverted Y shaped walls are ideal for free-standing retaining walls or for
engineering from ground retention, including road, rail, and landscape material storage and can also be supplied off the shelf together with
projects to watercourse management projects such as bunker walls, storm corner elements.
water tanks, cellars, below ground parking, blast walls, and security walls.
Precast retaining walls can also be designed to provide efficient and Bespoke precast retaining wall elements can be designed and manufactured
versatile bulk storage of materials on either a temporary or permanent to suit the needs of a project where design requirements call for a solution
basis. Common materials stored using retaining walls include grain, coal, that goes beyond anything that can be achieved with standard elements.
recycled materials, fertilizers, sewage waste, sand and ceramics.
Modular block systems are supplied by a number of precast suppliers. These
Many precast concrete suppliers offer a range of simple cantilever walls, large blocks, which interlock and build up quickly into a retaining wall, are
generally in a T or L profile. Standard retaining wall elements are available in often designed to give the appearance of natural rock.
a range of widths, lengths and thicknesses, with corner units to enable rapid
construction. Crib walls
Crib walls are constructed from interlocking modular precast elements,
L walls
infilled with different materials to suit the aesthetic requirements of the
Standard elements are designed to retain material with a density up site. The elements can be readily demounted and reused elsewhere.
to 16kN/m3 and an angle of repose greater than 35o. With the retained
material level with or below the top of the wall elements, a superimposed Due to the specialised nature of this form of construction further advice
load of up to 10kN/m2 can be applied to the fill on either or both wall faces. should be sought from the manufacturer of the chosen system.
Alternatively, material can be stored (or an embankment sloped) up to an
angle of 30o from the horizontal.

T walls
The T wall element is designed to retain materials with a density up to
16kN/m3 and an angle of repose not exceeding 35o. Material can be stored
up to an angle of 30o from the horizontal on either or both sides of the
element. Another solution is the use of double tee wall panels connected to
foundations via post-tensioning bars.
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Waste and water engineering

Precast concrete has many applications in the field of water engineering. From pipes and manholes in sewerage systems,
to heavy bespoke structural elements in sea defences, the combination of durability and strength makes precast
concrete a natural choice.

Watercourses with box culverts

Precast concrete box culverts are a tried and tested method of enabling Attenuation tanks
development of land crossed by watercourses. Box culverts offer economy Single or multiple runs of box culverts provide the most economic in-line
combined with the best flow capacity, even when the gradient is low and or offline storage of storm water. Culverts deployed in this way are supplied
headroom and/or width is restricted. Lengths in excess of 1,000 metres complete with end walls, access and pipe entry openings designed to carry
have been culverted. Where necessary, splayed units can allow for changes the water loadings from highways, car parks or any other surcharge dictated
in direction. Openings for access and pipe entry can be incorporated during by the location.
manufacture. Concrete surfaces do not deteriorate, while the smooth
internal finish of concrete ensures optimum flow of water through the box Alternatives to pipes
Box culverts can be designed for as little as 200mm cover and, where
necessary, for no side pressure relief from the ground. As such they are a
The flow capacity of a box culvert is determined by a number of different
perfect alternative to standard pipes.
factors including gradient, roughness coefficient and the geometry of
inlet and outlet. Rectangular box sections laid side by side in a multi-cell
construction, with a nominal gap to allow for relative settlement, provide
the largest flow capacity in the minimum space. Box culverts can be provided with or without removable lids, enabling a
wide range of applications from open water course diversion, to service
Manufactured under quality controlled conditions using purpose made steel ducts for pipes and cables.
moulds, box culvert elements have high dimensional accuracy, ensuring
easy and speedy installation.
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Pipeline systems
Precast concrete pipeline systems offer an economic, strong durable time- Jointing techniques vary, depending on the type of joint that is used with
proven solution to most drainage situations. One of the main advantages the pipes. The most advanced joint has a rubber seal cast integrally into the
of precast concrete pipes is durability. Precast concrete pipes already have pipe socket by the manufacturer. Other jointing systems have a rolling ring
a track record of long service life exceeding 100 years. Their use in the or a sliding seal. All joints satisfy stringent performance criteria laid down in
UK dates back to the middle of the 19th century. Today, precast concrete the current European standards [9,10].
pipeline systems are a major part of the UK sewerage and combined
network. The inherent strength in precast concrete pipes makes them less susceptible
to the effects of poor bedding or other forms of poor installation, as the
Precast concrete pipelines offer a variety of solutions. They can be used for a pipeline does not rely entirely on the type of construction to ensure its
wide range of applications from storm and foul water sewerage installations structural integrity. Recycled materials can be used successfully in bedding,
to attenuation systems. Traditional flexible jointed pipes come in a wide and excavated material can be reused again for infill.
range of diameters and lengths with a full range of fittings including bends,
fixed branch and universal junctions, rocker and butt pipes. Pipes are usually The durability of concrete ensures that precast concrete pipes have a low
identified in millimetres by internal diameter and given the prefix DN (from maintenance requirement, with excellent resistance to high pressure water
the French diametre nominel). jetting used for cleaning and clearing blockages.

Precast concrete pipes range in size from DN 225 to DN 2400, with some The inherent strength of precast concrete pipes can prevent rodents causing
bespoke pipes available in even larger sizes. It is still possible to obtain damage and the consequential risk of infestation into homes.
imperial equivalent size pipes in the UK.

Precast concrete pipes have three main cross sections: circular, ovoid and

Ovoid pipes present a range of benefits:

Better low flow velocity characteristics than circular pipes.

Lower operating costs, allowing some sewers to be laid without the
need for pumping.
Better self cleansing properties, reducing the risk of siltation
and blockage.
Shallower gradients resulting in reduced cost for trench excavation.

Elliptical pipes are used for foul and surface water drainage applications,
stream diversions, culverting and attenuation storage tanks. The pipes
elliptical internal profile is hydraulically efficient, while the external
polygonal profile is structurally efficient. Together these design criteria
provide a unique and highly cost-effective drainage product. Laid with
an horizontal orientation, elliptical pipes are ideal for shallow trenches
and, depending on ground conditions, can have a cover as low as 200mm.
Alternatively, pipes can be placed in a vertical orientation for narrow trench

Ranges of precast concrete pipes specifically designed for pipe jacking and
microtunnelling applications are available. Designed with accurate joint
surfaces with square faces, these pipes are manufactured from a strong high
density concrete with a smooth finish to minimise jacking forces. Joints are
either an in-wall joint with rolling elastomeric ring or a steel banded joint.

The service life expectancy of modern pipe seals used in the jointing of
precast concrete pipes is expected to be in excess of 120 years, provided the
seal is not detrimentally affected by bad workmanship during installation or
by later environmental factors that could not have been considered at the
time of design.
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Manholes and inspection chambers

The requirements for manholes have been brought up to date, with new
regulations on safe work in confined spaces and new European standards
[11,12]. Manholes with single steps have been phased out and double steps
are now incorporated (a step which is designed to support two feet or two
hands next to each other, and is intended to be installed in a single vertical
alignment[11]). Precast manhole elements are provided with joints formed
within the wall section, either rebated or tongue-and-grooved and then
sealed in-situ with cement/sand mortar or proprietary mastic sealant. These
solutions will provide an adequate seal under normal conditions.

Inspection chambers allow the sewer to be inspected, but are smaller than
manholes and do not allow access for personnel.

Case study: Elliptical concrete pipes,

Twickenham, London
Working on the Rugby Football Unions major redevelopment of Elliptical pipes are ideal for this type of application where ground levels
the South Stand at Twickenham Stadium, London, some challenging only permit minimal earth cover. Inherent strength and improved flow
surface water drainage issues were resolved by deploying elliptical rates mean the pipes can be laid at shallow gradients, thereby reducing
concrete pipes. trench excavation costs.

A high water table on the site and very shallow gradients for surface Elliptical internal profile gives excellent hydraulic performance,
water run-off from the stadium meant that elliptical pipes were meaning that this form of pipe design brings significant benefits over
considered a better technical and more economic solution compared other systems for projects of this nature. Supplied in 2.4m lengths, the
to other drainage systems. pipes required fewer joints than a box culvert solution, adding value to
the project by providing a more economic alternative.
750 metres of 1150mm x 750mm concrete elliptical pipes were
installed side by side in a horizontal orientation in pipe runs up to five Client: Twickenham Stadium
metres wide. With insitu concrete inter-connecting chambers, the pipes Consulting engineer: Arup
form an attenuation tank for storing surface water run-off prior to it Concrete pipe manufacturer: Stanton Bonna
being discharged into the public sewer system.
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Permeable paving
To prevent localised flooding in a developed environment, the traditional Soakaways
management of rainwater has been to capture it into the sewerage system As part of a SUDS, Building Regulations require that rainwater from a
as quickly as possible. Rainwater is then transported either to a treatment drainage system should discharge to a soakaway as a first priority and
works or watercourses. In developed areas this means that there is less only to a sewer when this is not reasonably practicable. Precast concrete
natural filtration of the rainwater back into the ground, while the sewerage soakaways offer an excellent solution, providing an infiltration drainage
systems have to cope with large quantities of water. During heavy rainfall, solution. Individual soakaways can be linked together with pipes to increase
storm overflows into watercourses are required which can in turn lead to capacity and provide a greater infiltration area. Their strength enables them
serious pollution. Sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS) help alleviate to take loads from vehicular traffic. Precast concrete soakaways can be
these problems by allowing the management of rain water as locally as easily inspected and maintained.
reasonably possible. Precast concrete elements are key components of the
SUDS solution to the problem of rainwater management. Precast pipeline products
Although SUDS are designed to minimise the water reaching the traditional
There are a number of concrete block paving solutions designed specifically sewerage systems, concrete pipes still play an important role. Surface water
to create permeable pavements. These designs incorporate enlarged joints may need to be directed into swales, ponds and/or rivers by gullies and pipe
created by larger than conventional spacer nibs (which maintain interlock) networks with corresponding inspection chambers and manholes. Precast
on the sides of each paving block, or voids generated by geometric block concrete headwalls, inlets and outlets for swales, filtration basins and other
shapes (which maintain interlock). Joints or voids are subsequently filled storage areas will be required to prevent scour. The low maintenance and
with a nominal 6mm single sized permeable joint filling material that allows long life span of precast concrete products may help to mitigate some of
rainwater to drain through it into the ground below. the costs of increased maintenance found in some SUDS.

There are three forms of precast concrete block paving construction offering
total, partial or no infiltration to meet specific requirements:

Total infiltration concrete block paving allows water falling onto the
pavement to infiltrate down through the joints or voids between
the concrete blocks, passing through the constructed layers below and
eventually into the subgrade

Partial infiltration. Building on the total infiltration model, this design

includes a series of perforated pipes or fin drains at the formation level to
allow the remaining water to be drained to other systems such as sewers,
swales or watercourses

No infiltration. Allows for the complete capture or attenuation of the

water using an impermeable flexible membrane placed on top of the
formation level. Pipes or fin drains transmit the water away as in partial
infiltration systems. The no infiltration solution is particularly suitable for
contaminated sites

Further information on the design of permeable paving SUDS systems [13]

is available from Interpave at
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Maritime, coastal and offshore

Precast concrete is used in a wide range of applications along the coast. In ports and harbours, precast concrete often
forms the main structural body of quays, and is used in caissons, blockwork or diaphragm wall structures. Whatever form of
substructure construction is used, precast concrete is invariably used for the quay deck.

Coastal defence walls Sea outfalls

The speed with which precast concrete sea defence walls can be Specially designed box culverts with increased cover to reinforcement and
erected makes the material particularly suited to construction in a effective crack control provide the durability to resist the most extreme
tidal environment. In addition, the outstanding durability and aesthetic conditions and are, therefore, ideal for this type of application.
quality of factory produced elements adds to their suitability for marine
environments. Tetrapods, tribars and dolos
Various forms of precast concrete armour blocks can be used to protect
Revetment walls harbour walls, headlands, breakwaters and other vulnerable areas from
Revetments are structures placed on banks in such a way as to absorb the force of the sea. Precast concrete can be an economic alternative to
the energy of incoming waves. They are normally found on internal large blocks of armourstone, a material which invariably needs importing
waterways but can also be used to protect the coastline. They may be either into the UK. By contrast, precast concrete is generally manufactured on,
watertight, covering the slope completely, or porous, to allow water to filter or close to the site, reducing the environmental impacts of transportation
through after the wave energy has been dissipated. Precast concrete can be and supporting the local economy. When armourstone is used, randomly
used as individual blocks or mats. or regularly placed specialist precast concrete elements often provide
the primary armouring, since large stones alone may be inadequate or
inefficient in resisting the action of the sea.

Cardiff Bay Barrage, Cardiff.

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Case study: Blackpool Sea Defences

The 100 year old sea defences of the famous resort town were
reaching the end of their serviceable life, with the wall being
increasingly overtopped causing flooding of houses and the
seafront tramway. Blackpool Borough Council awarded a contract
to replace 3.3km stretch of defences over four years. As well as
meeting the requirement to protect the town from the sea, the
council was eager that the new defences should enhance the
visitors experience of the resort.

Five new headlands have been created, along with five hectares of
open space. The solution adopted involved the placing of 65,000m3
of ready-mix concrete with 44,000m3 of precast concrete

The new defences generally comprise two rows of sheet piles with
a sloping revetment between them. The revetment is formed of a
fill material placed at 1:3 slope, capped with a concrete blinding
layer. Precast concrete step elements are laid on top and lock
together to form a concrete apron. The steps not only act as a
barrier to the sea, but also a seating area for holiday makers.

Behind the revetment there is a cast in-situ beam, a precast wave

wall and then a coloured concrete paving promenade.

One of the biggest challenges for the contractor was the six-hour
tidal window that some operations had to be completed in. The
solution was to adopt precast concrete so that on-site work would
simply involve assembling the elements.

Client: Blackpool Borough Council

Sea defences contractor: Birse Civils
Precast Supplier: Tarmac

Sea defences, Scarborough. Photo courtesy of Words and Pages.

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Transportation and infrastructure

Concrete has many applications in infrastructure and transportation projects. Concretes durability, versatility and
aesthetic qualities enable structures built in the material to not only look good, but provide a long, maintenance
free service life.

The use of small stone elements to create a hard surface for roads
or pavements has been used for hundreds of years. Concrete block Case study: Port of Felixstowe
paving continues this tradition. It was first introduced in Holland after A member of the Hutchison Port Holdings Group, the Port of
World War II, followed by other countries (notably Germany) and its Felixstowe, is the largest container port in the UK and one of the
introduction to the UK in the 1970s. Concrete block paving provides a hard largest ports in Europe. The 28m project to construct a major
surface which is aesthetically pleasing, comfortable to walk on, extremely extension to the ports Trinity Terminal required the construction
durable and easy to maintain. of a paving area of 230,000 square metres for a new container
storage yard.
Blocks are fully engineered products manufactured in the factory to give
consistency and accuracy. Laid with an edge restraint over a granular The challenge was to find a solution that would offer assurances of
bedding course, individual blocks interlock with each other to act together, laying consistency, and on completion, would provide the port with
distributing large point loads evenly. Concrete block paving can be used a durable surface able to cope with the continual movements of
immediately after laying. It requires only minimal maintenance. Today, heavy container-handling equipment and stacked container loads.
mechanical installation techniques allow large areas to be laid with a
minimum of manpower, saving both time and money. The solution was to cover the yard in concrete paving supplied
in 200mm x 100mm x 80mm elements. An innovative machine
Detailed guidance on structural design [14] including heavy duty pavements lay technique was used to pave more than half the area, with the
[15] is available from Interpave at remainder being laid by hand. During the most efficient phases of
the machine lay process, three laying machines were employed
side by side at the laying face, allowing each machine to install
more than double the amount of paving blocks than would have
been possible by hand. The blocks were packaged in a 45-degree
herringbone formation, with each machine head picking up and
laying 64 blocks (1.28 square metres) at a time. When a suitable
area had been laid and sand applied, heavy duty plate compactors
were then used to ensure the blocks formed an even surface.

The Port of Felixstowe now has an additional 23 hectare container

storage area that benefits from a completely concrete block
paved surface, able to withstand the constant movement and load
impacts of varied goods that are stored at a major cargo port.

Main contractor: Costain Limited

Concrete paving sub contractor: Marshalls
Paving system: Keyblok
Precast Concrete 15
in Civil Engineering

Precast concrete has been used extensively in the construction of bridges Where diaphragm walling or contiguous bored piling is used to form
for many years. Whether it is in decks, abutments, piers or retaining walls, abutment walls, they can be faced in precast concrete. Similarly, precast
precast concretes durability, consistent quality and versatility make it an concrete panels are often used to face reinforced earth embankments.
ideal solution for bridges. Precast concrete culverts and arches can be used
to replace underbridges carrying minor roads, services and rivers. Wing walls
Precast concrete retaining walls or modular crib walls can be used to
Beams construct wing walls.
Precast, prestressed beams of varying profiles can be used for bridge decks.
Maximum spans are generally limited to the length of precast concrete Modular bridges
beam that can be transported from the factory. In the UK the normal span Modular bridges are an innovation which combine the best features of
limit is 27.4m although a special order may be granted for lengths up steel-concrete composite, precast beam, in-situ and segmental schemes.
to 40m if the beams are to be delivered to a motorway site via the road The system comprises 2.5m long shell elements which can be easily
network. transported to site for assembly.

Segmental decks Modular bridges can be constructed in a variety of ways to suit any
Long span bridges are often constructed with precast concrete segments, particular project. Suggested methods include lifting, using mobile cranes,
post-tensioned on-site. The elements are normally counter cast against incremental launching, lifting using transporters and erection using a
each other to ensure a good fit and then sealed together in-situ. Cross- temporary gantry.
sections are usually cellular or box shaped, with the deck slab cantilevered
out on either side. Further information on modular bridges is available in the Concrete Bridge
Development Groups Guide to Modular Bridges [16].
Piers and abutments
The substructure of a bridge is exposed to a particularly harsh environment. Precast arch
Freezing and thawing cycles and exposure to spray contaminated with Arches can have varying geometry. They have simple foundations and can
de-icing salts means that the durability requirements of the elements be erected quickly on site. Different backfill options can be used. Arches
are critical. Precast concrete with carefully designed mixes can meet the can be designed as either two or three pinned. The use of finite element
demands of the harshest environments. analysis ensures that cost-effective structures are produced. Details of case
studies using precast concrete arches are available in the publication Fast
Construction of Concrete Bridges from The Concrete Centre [17].

Precast concrete bridge beams used for road bridge at Hackney Marshes, London. Photo courtesy of Tarmac.
16 Precast Concrete
in Civil Engineering

Tunnels Cut and cover tunnels

Where the site allows sufficient space for an open excavation, cut and cover
tunnels with precast concrete elements can prove a cost-effective method
The inherent strength and durability of concrete together with its fire of construction.
resistance makes concrete the natural choice for tunnel linings.

Box culverts
Tunnel linings
The proven strength and performance characteristics of precast concrete
Precast concrete segments for use in the construction of bored tunnels
box culverts, together with their excellent service life, make them ideal for a
and shafts have been available in the UK since the mid-1930s. Since
wide variety of civil engineering and construction applications. Box culvert
bolted precast tunnel segment linings were first introduced, different
sections can be manufactured in a variety of shapes and sizes, offering
manufacturers have developed innovative solutions to ensure that their
exceptional versatility in the uses to which they can be applied. In addition
products can provide finished tunnels or shafts in one operation, eliminating
to the more common use of diverting water courses, box culverts have been
the need for secondary linings. No former ring or temporary supports are
used in an array of applications including tunnelling.
required with modern tunnel segment construction

Pedestrian and vehicle subways

A range of different linings are available to meet different end-use and
ground conditions. These include: Box culverts can be provided with suitable headroom for use as pedestrian
subways and underpasses. Larger sections can also provide access for
Single pass linings cars and light commercial vehicles. Provision can be made for lighting,
Standard bolted linings incorporation of special finishes or post-tensioning.
Trapezoidal linings
Expanded linings Road and rail crossings
There are benefits to using box culverts in road and rail applications.
More information on the design of tunnel linings is available in the Tunnel They offer a cost-effective solution and a rapid means of construction,
Lining Design Guide [18]. minimising closure periods and disruption.

Shafts Escape tunnels

Shafts using precast concrete segments can be built using underpinning, Box culverts provide an ideal solution for rapid and safe underground escape
caisson or jacking techniques. Due to the nature of individual from industrial and commercial premises, car parks, shopping centres and
manufacturers propriety systems it is essential that advice is sought with sports arenas.
respect to their systems at the outset of the project design phase.
Service tunnels
Box culverts are particularly suitable for accommodating utilities and
provide access to allow the maintenance of underground services.

Ventilation shafts
Vertical access shafts can be constructed using box culvert sections to
provide access to deep utilities or to act as ventilation shafts.
Precast Concrete 17
in Civil Engineering

Precast concrete is ideally suited for providing gantries for the UKs road
network [19]. The durability of concrete offers low maintenance and long
life. The high strength enables large spans to be achieved. Off the shelf
A-frame gantries are available and are both aesthetically pleasing and cost-
effective. Utilising prestressing with light secondary reinforcement, gantries
have a slim line profile. They can be supplied in varying heights and spans.

Case study: Precast concrete gantries, Client: Highways Agency

M62, Manchester Contractor: Alfred McAlpine
Precast supplier: Tarmac
On the M62 near Manchester, 41m precast concrete gantry beams
were used to span both carriageways eliminating the need for a gantry
leg in the central reservation. The method of construction minimised
the need for full motorway closures. One carriageway can be kept open
except for during the beam lift, which can take as little as ten minutes
and can be carried out under a rolling road block with police assistance.
18 Precast Concrete
in Civil Engineering

Impact barriers
Precast concrete safety barriers can be used to rapidly provide safe working
areas and quickly separate vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Precast concrete
barriers are quick and easy to install, and are easily demounted and

Precast concrete barriers link together to ensure that impact loads are
transferred and absorbed along the length of the barrier.

Acoustic barriers
Sound propagates from its source as expanding pressure waves. When the
waves hit a barrier they will either be reflected, absorbed, diffracted or will
pass through.

There are three types of precast concrete acoustic barrier [20]:

Absorptive Case study: wave wall, London Gatwick Airport
Taxiing aircraft caused high levels of noise at Gatwick Airports
boundary. The source of the noise, jet engines, was located
Reflective barriers
relatively high off the ground, so a tall barrier was required to
Reflective barriers work by reflecting noise back towards the source, reduce the noise. Thrust from the engines was considerable. Any
although it should be realised that this can cause increases in noise on barrier would have to withstand significant and regular lateral
the side from which the sound comes. This can be minimised by sloping loading. Acoustic modelling indicated a requirement for an 11
the barrier to reflect the noise upwards or to pass above any receivers. The metre high barrier, the tallest in the UK.
performance of a reflective barrier is limited by the diffraction at the top
edge. A sub-set of this type of barrier includes a range of modifications to A striking appearance was adopted using an ingenious, but simple,
the top edge, such as wide flat tops and multiple vertical edges to reduce wave design which made the structure self-supporting. Curved
the level of diffraction. precast concrete panels were used, the mass of which was ideal
for dealing with the combination of noise and lateral load, and
Absorptive barriers assisted in the stability of the structure. In all 43 panels each 10
Absorptive barriers incorporate a porous element that absorbs noise, for metres long and using four different designs, were erected. Those
example open structured concrete using wood fibres or small lightweight with the largest amplitude (three metres) were positioned in areas
cementitious spheres as the aggregate. In a single-sided barrier, this layer of aircraft engine blast, where there was maximum lateral loading.
forms the surface, supported by another of solid concrete that prevents The elements were counter-cast, one above another, in order to
sound passing through the barrier and provides structural integrity. The minimise the thickness of horizontal joints. Eight 1.4 metre high
surface is usually quite highly profiled, to increase its area and provide elements made up the 11.2 metre height of each wall, totalling
maximum sound absorption. In double-sided concrete barriers, absorptive 344 individual elements along the 430 metre length of the barrier.
materials, such as mineral wool can be enclosed in a sandwich layer. The The elements incorporated polystyrene cores to reduce their
side facing the noise is perforated. Both single-sided and sandwich barriers weight to below 12 tonnes. Consequently this enabled economical
are precast in lengths of four to five metres and can be from 140mm to 24 tonne flat wagons to transport two elements at a time. When
190mm thick. This type of barrier is particularly useful where there are installed, the voids were filled with readymix concrete to protect
barriers on both sides of a road as they prevent the build up of reflected the reinforcing that was continuous from the piled foundations
noise within the carriageways.
White granite coarse aggregate and sparkling sand were used in
Reactive barriers the precast mix, exposed by grit blasting. Continuity of the 43
individual walls was then achieved by applying mastic sealant to
Reactive barriers are a specialised form of absorptive barrier that
the perimeter of all joints. The success of this barrier at Gatwick
incorporate cavities or resonators designed to attenuate particular noise
led directly to similar structures being used for Terminal 5 at
frequencies. Sound enters the cavities via small holes or slots in the
Heathrow Airport.
perforated precast concrete blocks. The size of the cavity is tuned to permit
phase cancellation at the selected frequency. The range of frequencies for
Client: British Airport Authority
which these resonators are effective can be increased by filling the cavity
Contractor: Pavement Team
with sound absorptive materials.
Consultant: Sir Anthony Hunt and Associates
Precast supplier: Buchan Concrete Solutions
Precast Concrete 19
in Civil Engineering

Rail products
Prestressed precast concrete sleepers have been used on the United
Kingdom rail network since World War II. There are now some 30 million
precast sleepers in use, with an impressive record of low maintenance and
long life durability.

Monoblock, pretensioned, prestressed precast concrete sleepers are used in

large volumes. They now constitute the main sleeper type throughout the
European rail industry. Concrete sleepers are suitable for ballasted track at
all running speeds. They are the only choice for running speeds greater than

The critical advantages of prestressed sleepers are their durability, rigidity

and mass. They provide a long life, firm foundation for the running rails and
control track buckling risk.

Life cost analysis has shown that prestressed precast concrete railway
sleepers give the lowest cost for any track type.

Precast concrete is now used as the material of first choice for the complex
bearers that are used in switch and crossing layouts.

Platforms Platforms at Tring Station, Hertfordshire.

Investment in the UKs railway network, both above and below ground,
redevelopment and refurbishment of stations, and the use of longer trains
has resulted in the construction of new platforms and the extension
of existing platforms. The precast industry has responded to with the
Utility boxes
development of products that allow the work to be carried out within the
limited possession times available. In addition to rail accessories there are precast manufacturers who supply
a variety of utility boxes. These can serve a number of different functions
Precast rail accessories such as valve, meter or hydrant chambers. Precast concrete is also used in
marker posts of various dimensions with a recess to receive a marker plate
Precast concrete cable ducts, conduits and markers are used extensively
to suit applications. Field and hedge markers are also available badged to
throughout the UK rail network. Precast concrete troughs provide an ideal
customer requirements.
solution, with a strength and durability that help protect the cables from
damage by track maintenance tools, weather, fire and animals.
20 Precast Concrete
in Civil Engineering

Kerbs Wind
Precast concrete kerbs are best known for an extensive range of well-used Precast concrete offers an ideal solution for the construction of wind
BS profiles given in the latest British Standards [21]. The full, extensive towers, which can be in excess of 100m tall. The versatility and durability
range of elements and accessories is available in precast concrete covering of concrete allows wind towers to meet the many demands made on them,
all the highway features needed today. These are readily available and ranging from site constraints to aggressive environmental conditions.
compatible between different manufacturers.
High quality wind tower sections can be precast in factories under
Precast concrete kerbs are produced in a wide range of sizes and radii with controlled conditions and transported to site in elements limited only by
coloured, textured and profiled surfaces. They are manufactured using three size and weight. Simple jointing details are easily achievable with precast
main processes: semi-dry hydraulically pressed and wet cast. The majority concrete elements, leading to cost-effective formwork solutions and fast
of precast concrete kerbs are produced by hydraulic pressing, with some and efficient construction.
very specialist kerb elements being wet cast. Secondary processes can
provide different surface finishes, some of which provide a close match to High quality precast elements can be used to form both offshore and
traditional stone. These are particularly useful for the cost-effective edging onshore towers. The precast manufacturing process minimises dimensional
to roads and footways in historic towns and conservation areas. tolerances and guarantees a high degree of fitting accuracy during erection.
The size and configuration of segments can be altered to take account of
An extensive array of equipment is readily available to handle precast lifting capacity available during construction and transportation logistics.
concrete kerbs to cater for all situations. These range from mechanical Precast elements can be handled individually or as pre-assembled tower
equipment allowing two operatives to handle kerbs for the tightest of sites, sections comprising numerous precast elements joined using prestressing
to vehicle mounted or manual-powered vacuum lifters for rapid installation strands. Concrete elements able to flexibly accommodate detailed section
of longer runs. changes can be constructed to large diameters without disproportionate
increases in cost. More information on the use of precast concrete for wind
New kerb solutions continue to be developed to meet specific demands. applications is available in other publications [22,23] from The Concrete
For example, high containment kerbs offer a simple, cost-effective system Centre. To accommodate project constraints, any tower cross-section can
for passive traffic control, contributing towards better road safety and be made up of either entire precast elements, or two or three segmental
protecting pedestrians. Other precast concrete kerb products have been elements joined together. Clearly the latter option may be preferable for
developed to facilitate access by wheelchair users, people with prams, the sites with access difficulties. Simplicity of connection and accuracy of level
ambulant disabled and others onto buses. Here, special kerbs overcome the are central to keeping formwork costs to a minimum and speeding up
problems associated with height variance between footway and the various construction time on-site.
entrance levels of public transport vehicles, while also minimising the gap
by facilitating easier and accurate vehicle positioning.

Guided busways
Guided busways allow buses to run along special tracks, which can be
slipformed or constructed with either precast beams or kerbs. The buses
use guide wheels to steer the bus while running on the tracks, which means
that the lane width for a guided busway is less than for a normal bus lane.
The accuracy possible with precast elements allows the guided busways to
provide an excellent ride quality.
Precast Concrete 21
in Civil Engineering

Maximising the benefits of precast concrete

Early involvement of the precast concrete manufacturer
The UK precast concrete industry has many years of experience working
Site erection
on a range of projects. To obtain the maximum benefit of this experience
it is advisable to involve the precast concrete manufacturer at the earliest Method statement
opportunity. The precast industry is able to give initial advice. Contact details
At the commencement of each project a method statement confirming
can be obtained from the relevant trade associations listed on page 22.
how the elements will be manufactured, transported and erected will be
The design team should be aware of the lead-in times for the type of prepared.
precast concrete they are intending to use. Some elements, such as pipes,
can be obtained in a short period because they are relatively standard. The headings covered in this statement include:
Other elements are more bespoke, so a longer period should be allowed for
co-ordination, design, mould production, casting and delivery. Safety (including the mandatory safety statement)
Construction planning Handling/cranage and transportation (due consideration will be
Once on-site, precast elements are installed quickly. It is therefore given to the weight of the elements)
important to programme the work to maximise the speed of construction Site erection (procedure, programme, sequence)
and avoid stop-start erection.
The design for temporary conditions during erection should take into
account overall stability and the stresses in individual elements and joints.
Production Load paths through a partially completed structure may be different for
those in a completed structure. An example is the temporary state when
Component drawings
bridge elements are cantilevered off a central pier.
Drawings produced by the precast concrete manufacturer for every element
show all relevant information such as the position of fixings, penetrations, The design and positioning of any temporary propping and of bases are
cast-in items, openings and lifting anchors. Any conflicting issue can be critical to the successful erection of a precast structure. Fixing points
designed out before a unit is cast. for props may be incorporated in the design and provided in the precast
The concrete curing process is an important part of element manufacture.
Heat, which accelerates curing, is applied to the cast concrete in various Access and cranage
ways, including steam or hot water running through a network of piping.
The following are some of the issues which should be taken into
Other methods include the use of hot air, and the application of electrical
consideration before choosing a crane and finalising the construction
current through reinforcing strands which act as heating elements. Covering
the elements with insulating sheets to retain heat and moisture helps the
curing process. The whole curing process takes place off-site, meaning that
Public safety and on-site safety
the construction phase on-site is even quicker.
Element sizes and weights
Maximum reach of the crane from set-up position to
final element installation
Considerable emphasis is placed on quality control at all stages in the Any constraints such as overhead power lines
production of precast concrete elements. Precast concrete manufacturers Availability of secure standing areas for cranage
generally manufacture in accordance with ISO 9001 [24] standards or with Ground bearing pressures for crane loads
other internal quality systems. Key areas of quality control include:
Specialist advice should always be obtained from the manufacturer and the
Test certificates for materials crane operator.
Compressive strength testing
Mould standard and quality
Preparation of reinforcement cages/strands
Cast-in elements and fittings
Dimensional checks both before and after casting.
Assessment of early age strength
Quality of finish
Handling and storage

When the elements have reached the required strength, they are removed
from the mould and labelled for later identification. The addition of bar
coding strips or embedded microchips on precast products help distribution
managers identify individual elements, making sure each reaches its correct
destination at the right time. This technology also helps managers on-site
speed up the construction process while at the same time ensuring accuracy.
22 Precast Concrete
in Civil Engineering

More information
More information on the products and applications discussed within this
document is available from the British Precast Concrete Federation or its
product group websites.

British Precast

Box Culvert Association

Concrete Pipeline Systems Association

Concrete Sleeper Manufacturer Association


Canning Town Station, London. Photo courtesy of The Concrete Society.

Precast Concrete 23
in Civil Engineering

1. Waste reduction potential of precast concrete manufactured offsite, WRAP WAS 003-003: Offsite construction case study
2. Concrete in Aggressive Ground, Building Research Establishment Special Digest 1, 2005
3. BS EN 13501-1, British Standards Institute, 2007
4. Concrete and Fire Safety, The Concrete Centre, 2008
5. Brundtland Report, Our Common Future, UN General Assembly document A/42/427, 1987
6. Little Green Book of Concrete, British Precast, 2008
7. Thermal Mass for Housing, The Concrete Centre, 2006
8. Utilisation of Thermal Mass in Non-residential Buildings, The Concrete Centre, 2007
9. BS EN 1916:2002, Concrete pipes and fittings, unreinforced, steel fibre and reinforced, British Standards Institute, 2002
10. BS 5911, Concrete pipes and ancillary concrete products, British Standards Institute
11. BS EN 1917:2002, Concrete manholes and inspection chambers, unreinforced, steel fibre and reinforced,
British Standards Institute, 2002
12. BS EN 13101:2002, Steps for underground an entry chambers Requirements, marking, testing and evaluation of conformity,
British Standards Institute, 2002
13. Permeable Pavements: Guide to the design, construction and maintenance of concrete block pavements, Edition 5, Interpave, 2007
14. Structural Design of Concrete Block Paving, Interpave, 2005
15. Heavy Duty Pavements: The structural design of heavy duty pavements for ports and other industries, Edition 4, Interpave, 2007
16. Guide to Modular Bridge Construction, TG12, Concrete Bridge Development Group, 2008
17. Fast Construction of Concrete Bridges, Concrete Bridge Development Group, 2005
18. Tunnel Lining Design Guide, British Tunnelling Society, 2004
19. Concrete Gantries, Current Practice Sheet No.11, Concrete Bridge Development Group
20. Cutting Down Noise with Precast Concrete and Masonry Barriers, British Precast, 2005
21. BS EN 1340:2003, Concrete kerb units - requirements and test methods, British Standards Institute, 2003
22. Concrete Wind Towers, The Concrete Centre, 2005
23. Concrete Towers for Onshore and Offshore Wind Farms, The Concrete Centre, 2007
24. ISO 9001:2000, Quality management systems Requirements, British Standards Institute, 2000
The Concrete Centre,
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4 Meadows Business Park,
Station Approach, Blackwater,
Camberley, Surrey GU17 9AB

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First published 2009
The Concrete Centre 2009

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