October 15, 2012

UMaine’s composite laboratory invention, the bridge-in-a-backpack is carried by a grad-student as Dr. Habib Dagher explains that the technology will revolutionize bridge building. photo by Ramona du Houx

The “Bridge-in-a-Backpack” technology developed at the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, (AEWC), received a key approval to be included into the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials book of codes.

Translation: now states can place orders for the bridge to be constructed because the federal government has given the technology an important stamp of approval. And inclusion in the codebook means that a Bridge-in-a-Backpack used on federal or state highways is automatically eligible for federal Department of Transportation grants. The adoption the standards was approved by an engineer from each state in a vote. Bridges are usually funded 80 percent by federal dollars, and 20 percent by state dollars.

This UMaine research and development project produced a patented technology, and a local company, Advanced Infrastructure Technology (AIT), has commercialized it. Orders could come flooding in.

The construction all starts with a deflated arch that fits into a backpack. The technology uses carbon-fiber tubes that are inflated, shaped into arches and infused with composite resin before being moved into place. The tubes are then filled with concrete, producing arches that are harder than steel and more resistant to corrosion. The arches are overlaid with a fiber-reinforced decking and buried under dirt and sand.

The technology reduces construction time, can double the life span of bridges, reduces maintenance and the transportation costs of bridge construction.

“It’s huge,” said Habib Dagher, director of AEWC. “It’s a big breakthrough. It’s the first time composite materials will be included in the bridge code.”

Now that the technology has been adopted into the code, future investors for the company are anticipated. AIT currently makes the bridge kits at Kenway Corporation and plans to produce more in the Orono area.

The company has ten bridges deployed in four different states, as demonstration models. Three have been built in Maine from part of a transportation infrastructure bond initiated by Governor John Baldacci to showcase the capabilities of the technology.

The Bridge-in-a-Backpack received grants from the state and federal government during its development at UMaine.