March 3, 2011

1376b917d1cf08c6-wdsc_0210-200x300Dr. Habib Dagher shows off UMO’s composite centers bridge in a backpack to Gov. John Baldacci and DOE Sec. Steven Chu. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Congressman Mike Michaud met in his Washington office with the Maine team behind the success of the innovative Bridge-in-a-Backpack project, which was spearheaded by Dr. Habib Dagher, director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine. The American Society for Civil Engineering awarded the composites center the Pancow Award for it’s cutting edge bridge technology.

The composite technology consists of inflatable tubes that can fit into a backpack. Those tubes can be inflated, formed into arches, and filled with resin. When the resin hardens the framework to build a bridge emerges which is then filled with concrete.

In an interview last month Dagher spoke about the interest in the new bridge technology from Russia for the winter Olympics in 2014.

“We’re excited. They have $1.5 billion for infrastructure getting ready for the Olympics. They’ve contacted me twice and we signed a Memorandum of Understanding. We’re in the process of finalizing an agreement. It’s a great chance to showcase the bridge-n-a-backpack to the world,” said Dagher.

Transportation Secretary Ray La Hood visited UMO to see the technology first hand and said he was, “impressed.”

Governor John Baldacci made sure ten percent of Maine’s bridges would be built from the technology developed at the UMO center in a transportation bond. That enabled the first bridge- in- a backpack to be built, and every since then attention and acclaim has been rolling in.

Michaud also met with former Maine Transportation Commissioner David Cole and Barry Raeburn and Brit Svoboda of Advanced Infrastructure Technologies, the Orono-based company that is commercializing the bridge technology. Dagher, and the Baldacci administration activity searched for a local business entrepreneur to commercialize the technology. Svoboda is from Bangor.

The Maine team received the American Society of Civil Engineer’s Award for Innovation in Washington, D.C. The award recognizes the contributions of organizations working collaboratively to advance the design and construction industry by introducing innovation into practice.

“It’s like winning a Grammy, in the industry,” said Dagher. “You don’t get an opportunity like this very often. It’s an award of a lifetime. Everyone involved with the technology earned this.”

Congressman Michaud, worked over the years to secure federal investments for the Bridge-in-a-Backpack project.

“They’ve done tremendous work and deserve to be honored for their accomplishments. The University of Maine is on the cutting edge when it comes to composite technology. The commercialization of this homegrown innovation will not only help create jobs, but also help rebuild our nation’s infrastructure in a more cost effective way,” said Michaud.

There are currently six bridges built in Maine from the bridge-in-a -backpack technology. Two more are scheduled to be built this year.