UMaine Composites Center's carbon-reinforced bridge solution attracts Cabinet-level interest

The Advanced Engineered Wood Composites (AEWC) Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine is advancing several composites initiatives, not the least of which is an innovative approach to traditional bridge replacements that has spurred the interest of the U.S. government.

The Advanced Engineered Wood Composites (AEWC) Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine (Orono, Maine) is advancing several composites initiatives, not the least of which is an innovative approach to traditional bridge replacements that has spurred the interest of the U.S. government. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood visited AEWC on Aug. 17 to see, firsthand, the group’s trademarked Bridge-in-a-Backpack — a rigidified, inflatable composite arch bridge technology.

The bridge technology consists of dry structural carbon and glass fiber “tubes” or sleeves that can be folded and easily transported in duffle-bag-sized packages to a work site, then inflated and resin-infused on portable racks to form, when cured, hollow rigid arches. The arches are set in footings, one end on each side of the bridge span, and arranged at predetermined intervals. Once in place, the arches are filled with concrete and become rigid structural members upon which a roadbed can be quickly constructed. No steel rebar is required, and the tubes protect the concrete from road salts and water, which, in turn, extends bridge life. Center director Dr. Habib Dagher (photo, second from right) contends that the resulting structure will have a longer service life than traditional concrete and/or steel bridges, and involves more environmentally friendly construction, with a 50 percent smaller carbon footprint.

Secretary LaHood (far right), U.S. Representative Mike Michaud (center), Maine’s Governor John Baldacci (second from left) and other dignitaries, toured AEWC and afterward told the press, “There is definitely a role for our government in what is going on here at this innovative incubator.” LaHood plans to present information about AEWC’s transportation-related research and development to President Barack Obama’s “Green Cabinet.” LaHood’s visit came on the day when construction began on a second arch bridge, the McGee Bridge in Anson, Maine, which followed a successful first installation in Pittsfield, Maine, in November 2008. Remarkably, UMaine’s was the lowest bid for the Anson project, says Dagher, proof that composites can compete on a “first-cost” basis with steel and concrete in the right application. Learn more in HPC’s sister publication Composites Technology, www.compositesworld.com/go.aspx?id=78742.

Dagher and the AEWC also are promoting offshore wind installations for Maine, as well as other infrastructure concepts that combine composites with more traditional materials, such as wood and concrete.