hyperTunnel technique could revolutionise tunnel construction

7 October 2021

A British scale-up company has turned tunnel construction on its head and unveiled what could prove to be a revolutionary system for creating tunnels.

Instead of excavating a tunnel and then creating the support structure in the usual way, the hyperTunnel concept first creates the tunnel structure and then undertakes the excavation.

The radical concept was unveiled to a fascinated audience at the highly successful British Tunnelling Society conference in London (30 Sep-1 Oct) where hyperTunnel engineers demonstrated the principles.

Eliminating the use of TBMs and drill-and-blast excavation methods, the technique uses horizontal directional drilling (HDD) to bore a series of small-sized ‘pipes’ forming an outline of the tunnel. Semi-autonomous robots carrying cartridges of construction chemicals are then piloted through the bores to 3D print the structural shell of the tunnel using what the company calls ‘swarming techniques’.

Having disrupted the geology, the soil within the tunnel outline can be removed with a remote-controlled excavation shield. A continuous concrete layer can then be sprayed onto the shell and the construction completed, if required, with custom linings. Secondary bore pipes are used to house monitoring technologies which improve long-term tunnel maintenance and safety.

hyperTunnel says the technique is designed to be faster, safer, more economical and environmentally friendly than current tunnel construction methods. What is more, it advances the company’s goals of reducing costs to enable the industry to more sustainably satisfy the increased demand for tunnels globally.

The concept, which makes use of AI, VR, digital twins and digital underground surveying, is currently being tested at various sites in the UK.