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  • Alfond Foundation awards $3.9 million to UMaine ocean engineering laboratories

    The Harold Alfond Foundation gave a $3.9 million grant to the University of Maine, formally establishing the Harold Alfond W2 Ocean Engineering Laboratory and Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory. The Ocean Engineering Laboratory will build prototypes of coastal and offshore structures, including ships, aquaculture facilities, oil and gas structures, and ocean energy devices under extreme wave, wind and current environments.

    “These will be the only labs of their kind in Maine with world-class capabilities to educate students and conduct cutting-edge research and development,” said professor Habib Dagher, executive director of the UMaine Composites Center. “The R&D will support the growth of the ocean economies and shipbuilding sectors in Maine and the nation, as well as the growth of digital and additive manufacturing of thermoplastic composite materials.”

    The Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory for thermoplastic composites will utilize digital, additive and robotics manufacturing to cut back the time and costs other methods require.

    The new laboratory features a 16-foot-deep wave pool with a rotating wind machine. It’s meant to test 1:50 scale models against waves up to 2½ feet, or 125 feet when scaled up, and the scale equivalent of hurricane-force winds. 16 large “paddles” push the water to create the waves of varying sizes and frequencies to see how prototypes hold up to the most severe storm conditions.

    Structural thermoplastics are recyclable materials that could transform the use of composite materials use in cars, ships, boats and aerospace applications. In June, the Composites Center received $497,965 from the National Institutes of Standards and Technology to develop a national road map for advanced manufacturing of structural thermoplastics composites materials.

    “The University of Maine has long been a pioneer in ocean research and engineering. With the state-of-the-art Alfond Ocean Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing Laboratories, the students and faculty at UMaine will be able to build on this impressive legacy and help grow Maine’s marine economy,” said U.S. Sen. Angus King. “I commend the Alfond Foundation for its dedication to providing a brighter future for Maine, and for its continued commitment to giving our students the opportunities they need to grow, learn and thrive.”‎

    The total construction, equipping and start-up of the new laboratories over the first three years will cost more than $13.8. Of that, the center had raised more than $9.98 through four grant competitions, including the U.S. Economic Development Administration, National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Maine Technology Institute, as well as a Maine voter-approved bond, supported by the Governor and Maine Legislature in June 2015. The $5million bond was the first LePage has backed during his tenure. Governor John Baldacci established bonds, through MTI, to continually fund the work at UMaine but LePage put an end to those programs.

    The Alfond Foundation's $3.9 million will help equip the facility, hire  engineers for the start-up in 2015–16, and fund graduate and undergraduate students over three years.

    Dr. Habib Dagher explains the process of testing in the pool at the UMaine Center during a press conference.

    Aleady established at UMaine is the Advanced Composite Center, which Dr. Dagher helped build during his time at the University. That Center is already developing advanced technologies for boat building, bridges, windmills, and ultra-strong buildings. With Dr. Dagher's guidence the Center recieved millions of dollars in grants from the state and federal government. Dr. Dagher also helped invent new technologies with his students and staff. (see more below)

    In the fuure their might be floating offshore windmill farms that use the discoveries of Dr. Dagher and his team. These, floating farms- yes floating, most ocean windmills are embeded in the ground - could generate enough energy for all of Maine, and beyond. They have already been tested at the new center.

    “Two integrated world-class research laboratories will be established in Maine through this unique partnership with the Alfond Foundation,” said UMaine President Susan Hunter. “This advancement in one of UMaine’s Signature Areas of Excellence creates unparalleled opportunities for students and researchers, and supports marine-related economic development in Maine.”

    Maine State Senator Amy Volk, chair of the Labor, Research, Commerce and Economic Development Committee said, “UMaine plugs its students into real-world research and engagement initiatives, including internships, co-ops and fieldwork throughout Maine — and beyond — in partnership with businesses and industries statewide, facilitating technology transfer, patenting, licensing and commercialization activities. We are encouraged by this public and private partnership to help Maine companies pursue R&D, as it represents strategic growth and economic development activity.”

    The UMaine Composites Center is the largest STEM research and development program located in a Maine university, and is at the heart of one of UMaine’s seven Signature Areas of Excellence — Advanced Materials for Infrastructure and Energy.

    More about UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center:

    Since its establishment by the National Science Foundation in 1996, the center has employed and trained over 1,800 UMaine undergraduate and graduate students. These students were paid to work on award-winning R&D projects with over 500 Maine-based, national and international companies. The center is housed on campus in a 100,000-square-foot laboratory facility valued at over $110 million.

    Research at the center has resulted in 42 issued and pending patents, over 500 published technical papers, and the creation of Maine spin-off companies through licensing agreements of its inventions, patents or trade secrets. This earned the UMaine Composites Center the 2008 Maine Development Foundation’s Champion for Economic Development Award.

    The center has received 40 national and international excellence awards, including:

    • 2015 White House Transportation Champion of Change
    • Top industry awards from the American Composites Manufacturers Association.
    • The 2011 Charles Pankow Award for Innovation from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the top global innovation award for its Bridge-in-a-Backpack technology.
    • The 2011 Engineering Excellence Award by the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC).
    • With funding from the Department of Energy, the center has pioneered development of ocean energy technologies, deploying in 2013 the first grid-connected floating offshore wind turbine in the U.S. in partnership with 30 organizations. Advanced Infrastructure Technologies (AIT), a 2008 spin-off, constructed 20 bridges and became the first composite technology bridge system to be approved in the U.S. AASHTO highway code. It is now an international company after installing a bridge in Trinidad.

    In addition, Compotech Inc., located in Brewer, spun-off the center in 2014 to commercialize blast and ballistic technologies. That same year, Revolution Research, Inc. was created by two center students to develop recyclable insulation using cellulose nanofibrils.