Behind the scenes of the world's largest crane
The latest installment of the BBC’s documentary series on the Hinkley Point C (HPC) Nuclear Power Station was released this month, following the project’s biggest lift to date as part of the construction of one of the reactors.
The documentary series, Building Britain’s Biggest Nuclear Power Station, is currently airing and gives a behind-the-scenes look into the complexities of the project, engineering plans, and the tools utilised in its construction. You can watch the most recent episode here:
In order to complete the massive lifts required of the project’s heavy structural elements, developers contracted Sarens, a global leader in heavy lifting and crane services, who designed and created the world’s largest land-based crane for use at the site.
After beginning initial construction in 2014, HPC became the first new nuclear station built in the UK in over 30 years and when in operation, will power more than 6,000,000 homes. It is currently the largest construction project underway in Europe and will cost an estimated £22 billion to complete.
Project Background and Crane Specifics
Sarens was contracted for the heavy lifts required for the construction process by Bylor, a joint venture project by Bouygues Travaux and Laing O´Rourke that has been delivering the main civil engineering works at HPC, also erecting 50 of their own tower cranes for construction.
The SGC-250 crane, otherwise known as Big Carl, was transported to Somerset from Sarens’ headquarters in Wolvertem, Belgium in 2019. This model as well as other Sarens Giant Cranes (SGC) models were designed to meet the increasing demand for cranes with extremely heavy lifting capacity. Coming from Sarens’ headquarters in Belgium, the SGC-250 was transported in pieces via ship.
Throughout the project, the crane will be relocated around the construction site, which is why it was specifically designed to have a flexible and dynamic set of wheels to allow of 360° slewing and travel even when fully rigged. This will greatly increase efficiency while performing over 700 lifts over the next 5 years.
With the new nuclear power station, the UK comes closer to its goal of providing low carbon electricity to meet 7% of energy demand via nuclear power. The HPC plant is expected to operate for up to 60 years while also offsetting 9 million tons of carbon dioxide a year.
The new documentary follows the Sarens team as they complete one of the project’s biggest and most prominent lifts to date, which took several months of planning before its execution. Composed of multiple episodes, the documentary provides a closer look into the unique challenges faced by engineers on this project, which is owned by EDF Energy.
The onsite team, made up of more than 5,000 engineers and workers is shown explaining to viewers the long planning process that went into the successful completion of lifting one of the first structures of the nuclear reactor into place. Footage of Sarens’ operators working overnight to complete this lift during several hours demonstrates the extreme precision required to ensure absolute safety for the nuclear project, revealing that missing the target by even 50mm when lowering the dome into place could have offset the lift and set the project back for months.
The project is expected to finish in 2026, and the documentary will include at least two more episodes showcasing the station's construction.
University of Dresden constructs carbon concrete building
The Technical University of Dresden, in partnership with German architecture firm Henn, is constructing the first building to be made out of concrete and carbon fibre, rather than traditional steel.
The combination of materials, known as, “carbon concrete” has the same structural strength as its steel-reinforced alternative but less concrete is used, according to researchers at the university.
The building, called “The Cube” is currently under construction at the University of Dresden’s campus in Germany, and is believed to be the first carbon concrete building in the world. Strengthening the concrete, the carbon fibre yarns are used to create a mesh into which the concrete is then poured.
Unlike steel, the mesh is rust-proof meaning that the lifespan of carbon concrete is longer than that of the more typical steel-reinforced concrete. This also allows the layers to be much thinner than steel.
The design and shape of The Cube
According to the companies, the flexibility of carbon fibre allows the walls to fold up and become a roof. In a statement talking about the building’s design elements, Hen said: “The design of The Cube reinterprets the fluid, textile nature of carbon fibres by seamlessly merging the ceiling and walls in a single form, suggesting a future architecture in which environmentally conscious design is paired with formal freedom and a radical rethinking of essential architectural elements.
"The wall and ceiling are no longer separate components but functionally merge into one another as an organic continuum.” Displayed as a showpiece for TU Dresden’s major project, backed by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, The Cube aims to explore the potential uses of carbon concrete in construction.
"Carbon concrete could contribute to more flexible and resource-saving construction processes, and switching to carbon concrete could reduce the CO2 emissions from construction by up to 50%," Henn said in a statement.
Bio-based carbon fibre under development to reduce carbon footprint
While carbon fibre may be lighter and stronger than steel, it has a much higher carbon footprint. Describing the material’s impact on the environment, Dr Erik Frank, Senior Carbon Scientist at the German Institute of Textile and Fibre Research Denkendorf (DITF), said it is “usually very bad.” To reduce the carbon footprint, Frank is finding ways to make carbon fibre out of lignin, a common plant-based substance found in the paper manufacturing industry.