ORONO, Maine — After nearly a decade of working to develop its Bridge-in-a-Backpack technology, the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center has received one of the highest honors in the engineering industry.
At an awards gala held in Washington on Thursday night, AEWC director Habib Dagher was presented with the Charles Pankow Award for innovation. The award came from the American Society for Civil Engineering, an internationally recognized organization with more than 140,000 members worldwide.
The AEWC’s Bridge-in-a-Backpack won in the category for innovation after a unanimous vote from a national review committee. The Pankow award was established by the American Society for Civil Engineering to recognize collaboration in innovative design, materials used, and construction-related research and development that transfers into a practical application in the real world.
The technology was developed by the AEWC in collaboration with the Maine Department of Transportation. Advanced Infrastructure Technologies, a company located in Orono, was given the only license to commercialize the product.
The product is achieving rapid success, according to Dagher, who said it is currently being used in seven bridges in Maine. He also said that states such as Massachusetts and New Hampshire, among others, will employ the technology in bridge projects slated for this summer. Furthermore, he said, talks are under way in countries as far away as Saudia Arabia and Russia, where there is an interest in using it.
The Bridge-in-a-Backpack technology is considered cutting edge for a number of reasons. It uses arch tubes made of carbon fiber-reinforced polymer composites, which can be inflated on site and pumped full of concrete.
The resulting structure is not only stronger than steel, but the tubes help protect the concrete from corrosion. The tubes are flexible and can be bent into any shape, which means the technology can be used for several functions in addition to the fact that a 70-foot tube can fit into a backpack the size of a hockey bag.
Students who helped develop the technology said the resulting product is considered innovative because of the rare composite material used and the unprecedented tests researchers conducted in order to ensure the tubes were strong enough to reinforce a bridge or similar structure.
On Friday, a group of more than 50 students, industry professionals and others involved in the project gathered at UMaine to celebrate the Pankow award given to AEWC. Peter Vigue, CEO of Cianbro Corp., who nominated Bridge-in-a-Backpack for the award, addressed the crowd.
“This is a clear day of celebration for the state of Maine,” he said. “It is also a reflection of this institution [UM] and its ability to collaborate with outside entities. This is truly something to be proud of.”
Both Dagher and Brit Svoboda, president and CEO of Advanced Infrastructure Technologies, joined the celebration at UMaine by videoconference from an airport in New York after inclement weather prevented them from returning to Maine after accepting the award in Washington the night before.
In Washington, Dagher and his colleagues were joined by world-renowned engineers and companies. Awards also went to those who helped build the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium, which cost about $1 billion. Others receiving awards included the engineers who designed the world’s largest building in Dubai and one of the world’s largest bridges in South Korea.
Dagher said the award was similar in prestige to the recording industry’s Grammy Awards.
“This has truly been a humbling experience,” he said. “You don’t get an opportunity like this very often. It’s an award of a lifetime. Everyone involved with the technology earned this.”