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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.

  • Dr. Dagher’s history of innovation, leadership and work at UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center recognized by White House award



    Dr. Habib Dagher his Bridge in a Back Pack behind him at the University of Maine in 2009. photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    In the spring of 2009 when Dr. Habib Dagher walked on the stage at the University of Maine during a presentation about bridge composite technologies he was casually carrying an oversized backpack. To most everyone’s surprise he opened the backpack and proceeded to pull out a large blue cylinder bag—and announced this was the major component that would form the skeleton of the arch of the award-winning composite bridge system, known as the “Bridge-in-a-Backpack.”

    In addition to the composite arch bridge system, Dr. Dagher’s history of innovation includes being named on 24 patents with 8 more pending.

    Finally, Dr. Dagher, on October 13, 2015, has been properly recognized for being a leader, the prime inventor of the “Bridge-in-a-Backpack,"  an inspiring innovator and mentor as he became a “2015 White House Transportation Champion of Change.”

    The White House Champions of Change Program honors Americans who are empowering and inspiring other members of their communities. At the event, honorees will have the opportunity to highlight their efforts in advancing transportation during a panel discussion. In addition, a blog post and the biography of each honoree will be featured on the White House website.

    “I’m really, really humbled,” said Dr. Dagher, founding Director of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center. “The award really belongs to the entire center, to the entire team.”

    The Bridge-in-a-Backpack’s arches, made of composite materials, are inflated at the site of a bridge and then infused with resin. Once they harden, they are lowered into place and filled with concrete and the foundations are shored up. Then the arches are covered in a corrugated, composite material, dirt and sand fills in gaps, and a composite deck on top of the structure is paved.

    The world’s first “Bridge in a Backpack” can be seen in Pittsfield as the Neal Bridge. That 44-foot structure used 23 arches in its construction and cut down the time of erecting a bridge — which was built by UMaine students, professors, and the Maine Department of Transportation.

    Governor John Baldacci made sure ten percent of Maine’s bridges would be built from the technology developed at the Composite Center in a transportation bond. That enabled the first Bridge in a Backpack to be constructed, and every since then attention and acclaim has been rolling in. With revolutionary examples of a light weight, more durable and flexible bridge technology here in Maine other states continue to see the advantages of using the “Bridge-n-a-Backpack.” The company that manufactures the bridges is owned and operated by Mainers in Orono, near UMaine.

    Dagher has also spurred composite technologies in alternative energy systems, boat building and extra strong buildings.

    “Dr. Habib Dagher is a wonderful and talented ambassador for Maine, and UMaine. His work on the composite program is yielding gains in transportation, energy, and boat building. I am proud of what he did in Maine and how the technologies he has fostered are great examples of what Maine can do for the nation,” said Former Governor John Baldacci.

    Dr. Dagher received his award in Washington D.C. at the White House Champions of Change event as U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx recognized 11 of the nation’s top transportation innovators for their exemplary leadership in advancing transportation and leading change that benefits our nation’s transportation system.

    The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) nominated Dr. Dagher for the award.

    “From Bridge in a Backpack to the VolturnUS wind-power project, the brilliant innovations he has developed are opening many economic opportunities for the state’s future,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. “I’m so glad the White House is recognizing his vision, leadership, and ingenuity.  Congratulations to him and his team on this well-earned honor.”

    “Dr. Dagher has long been an innovative force in Maine, and we are delighted that his work is being recognized so prominently by the White House,” said Senators Collins and King in a joint statement. “The University of Maine continues to prove that it is a first-class research institution, and Dr. Dagher and his team at the Composites Center are exemplary of that excellence.”

    In 2014, the Composite Arch Bridge system was approved in the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) bridge code, the first FRP composite bridge system to be approved in the US bridge design code.


    Dr. Habib Dagher's Bridge in a Back Pack being displayed at the University of Maine in 2009. photo by Ramona du Houx

    The Arch Bridge System, was featured in the cover story of Plastics Engineering in May 2015. The article titled, “Reinforced Plastics Move into Non-Traditional Markets,” was written Peggy Malnati. An excerpt from the article follows:

    “With increasingly unpredictable weather, natural disasters, and civil unrest plaguing many regions, it’s increasingly important to be able to replace damaged or destroyed bridges rapidly. Even in settled areas, aging infrastructure on bridges that are over their limit and beyond their service life means local and regional governments need ways to replace bridges quickly and cost effectively, preferably with materials offering longer use life.

    “A composites-intensive bridge technology developed by University of Maine’s Advanced Structures & Composites Center and commercialized by Advanced Infrastructure Technologies (both in Orono, Maine, USA) is said to provide a better, faster way to replace a wide variety of concrete bridges, freeway underpasses/overpasses, and railroad bridges. The project began with three ambitious goals: replace concrete formwork and rebar, use efficient arched structures, and produce components at the worksite.”


    Dr. Habib Dagher speaking about his Bridge in a Back Pack at the University of Maine in 2009. photo by Ramona du Houx

    “This award honors over a decade of ground breaking research by Habib and the UMaine team and highlights the importance of our continued partnership in advancing the nation’s transportation industry,” said Brit Svoboda, Chairman and CEO of AIT.

    Composite arch bridges have been installed in 18 locations in the US. A few others have been built elsewhere, including one in Trinidad.

     When a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis in 2007 Baldacci put together a $40 million bond, from nominal fees, to repair and replace the bridges at risk in Maine. "We’re going to use the latest research and development technologies from the University of Maine in composites to be a part of the solution," said Governor Baldacci at that time. "This should help spur the growing composites industry in Maine while making our bridges safe and secure."

    It did as the bond bill established a bridge composites innovation initiative where the MDOT worked with UM to expand the use of composites technologies in bridge maintenance and capital applications. They used the technology and products to inspect and extend the life of bridges and developed delivery models that expedited the design, rehabilitation and construction of bridges.

    Under Dr. Dagher’s leadership, the UMaine Composites Center grew from an idea proposed to the National Science Foundation in 1996 to a 100,000 ft2 world leading research laboratory with 180 full and part-time employees and students, the largest STEM-based research center at a Maine university.

    “In his 30 years at the University of Maine, Habib has embodied the teaching, research and community engagement efforts at the heart of Maine’s research university,” said University of Maine President Susan J. Hunter. “He is an internationally recognized leader in his field addressing the needs of Maine, and his innovation has led to structural technologies that have improved transportation infrastructure, advanced economic development and saved lives. And in all these efforts, he has engaged hundreds of students — tomorrow’s workforce — and created jobs. This national honor recognizes the achievement of hundreds of UMaine collaborators, and represents the strong partnership UMaine has with businesses and communities throughout the state.”