Ultra lightweight Bridge-N-A-Backpack invented by Dagher at UMaine to be marketed globally

By Ramona du Houx

Advanced Infrastructure Technologies (AIT), a University of Maine spinoff company, has signed an exclusive distribution and marketing agreement for North America with Terre Armee Group/Reinforced Earth Company (TA/RECo).

This agreement will help UMaine’s patented composite arch bridge technology gain more markets in North America, and to expand into international markets.

AIT is a leading producer of composite arch bridges that were first developed by the UMaine Advanced Structures and Composites Center originally known as Bridge-In-A-Backpack TM.

 “This is a tremendous step forward for our patented bridge technology and its commercialization partner AIT to sign a distribution and marketing agreement from a multibillion-dollar international construction and engineering company. AIT was able to attract the attention of such a substantial firm due to the value of the Bridge-In-A-Backpack TM technology, its continued R&D partnership with UMaine, and its efforts in securing early bridge sales within the U.S. infrastructure industry,” said Habib Dagher, executive director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center, and the primary inventor of composite arch bridge technology.

The Bridge-in-a-Backpack is so light grad students demostrate how easy it is to carry one of the inflatable arches, photo Ramona du Houx, 2009

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 Bridge-In-A-Backpack received funding from Maine state voter-approved bonds, under the Baldacci administration, as well as a host of grants from the federal government. 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 innovative composite bridge system, the first to be approved in the AASHTO code, lowers construction costs, extends structural life span up to 100 years, and is a sustainable alternative to traditional construction methods.

The technology has received major awards and recognition, including the 2015 White House Transportation Champions of Change, Most Creative Product by the American Composites Manufacturing Association, and the Charles Pankow Award for Innovation from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“This exclusive partnership with TA will strengthen our presence in the U.S. and Canada by leveraging their long-term and extensive market share by adding personnel resources and financial strength to AIT,” said Brit Svoboda, chair/CEO of AIT. “TA additionally offers AIT greater access to international markets through their significant global presence. We look forward to accelerating AIT’s growth through this arrangement.”

The Terre Armee Group operates through more than 30 companies in 60 countries. The company is best known for its work in the mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) market, where it has completed over 50 million square feet of retaining walls around the world in its 45-year history.

 “Being the inventor and world leader of the MSE retaining wall market gives us a strong platform for expanding the use of new technologies,” said Roger Bloomfield, CEO of the Terre Armee Group. “In recent years, we have annually averaged a supply of over 200,000 square meters of precast concrete arches. Adding the composite arch bridge system to our portfolio is an exciting development that will fuel the growth of both Terre Armee and AIT in the coming years.”

About Advanced Structures and Composites Center: The University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center is a world-leading, interdisciplinary center for research, education, and economic development encompassing material sciences, manufacturing, and engineering of composites and structures.

 Since 1996, the center has: financially supported more than 2,000 positions for undergraduate and graduate students; served more than 500 industrial and governmental clients, including 150 Maine companies; formed 14 spinoff companies through licensing agreements of patents or trade secrets, and received more than 40 national and international awards.

The center has gained a national and international reputation through major research and development projects such as the VolturnUS 1:8, the first grid-connected floating offshore wind turbine in the U.S. and the first in the world made out of concrete and composite materials, the inflatable composite arch bridges Bridge-In-A-Backpack TM technology now approved in the AASHTO code, the first Modular Ballistic Protection System (MBPS) approved by the U.S. Army to protect troops in tents from blast and ballistic threats, development of coated wood technology for blast and hurricane resistant wood buildings, and the longest carbon-fiber composite vessel built for the U.S. Navy. For more information, visit composites.umaine.edu.