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IACMI, Partners Showcase Sustainable Bridge Solution

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

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The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing, alongside nearly a dozen private companies and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Fibers and Composites Manufacturing Facility, have recently partnered together to build a lightweight bridge deck system.

Constructed in Morgan County, Tennessee, the new high-tech bridge boasts a fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composite material bridge deck embedded with fiber optic sensors. Prior to construction, county officials were reportedly looking for a low-maintenance bridge that could be installed quickly and at a lower cost than traditional methods to replace a damaged, decades-old concrete crossing.

“This composite bridge has already made a positive impact on Morgan County,” said Morgan County Highway Superintendent Joe Miller. “We have numerous bridges within the county and hundreds across the state that are in need of repair and could benefit from this technology.”

About the Project

According to an analysis report issued by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association last month regarding the U.S. Department of Transportation 2019 National Bridge Inventory, more than 46,000 bridges in the United States have been classified as structurally deficient and in poor condition.

The association adds that at this rate, it would take over 50 years to repair all the structures.

In researching potential solutions for this backlog in deficient bridges, and specifically for the deteriorating structure in Morgan County, Composite Applications Group led research and engineering students from the University of Tennessee and partnered with other industry organizations under the direction of IACMI to create a composite structure.

University of Tennessee

The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing, alongside nearly a dozen private companies and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Fibers and Composites Manufacturing Facility have recently partnered together to build a lightweight bridge deck system.

Heading the development of the bridge itself, Structural Composites Inc. created the 16-by-25-foot bridge deck, which it engineered for high strength and incorporated materials reported to be 90% lighter than concrete. It’s secret? Two 8-by-25-foot corrosion-resistant FRP deck panels fabricated offsite in a controlled environment.

To takes things a step further, the team added fiber optic sensors developed by Luna Innovations into the bridge’s surface as well. Over the course of the bridge’s lifetime, the high-density sensors will monitor the composite deck system to provide critical performance and safety data. In addition, the wireless sensors will also monitor traffic counts and the response of the bridge system remotely via cloud computing.

Once the bridge structure was completed, due to its lightweight, it was constructed onsite in just one day using a forklift, in turn, saving the construction process time and energy costs by requiring less construction equipment for onsite preparation.

According to IACMI Technology Manager John Unser, who is also Vice President of Program and Project Management for CAG, the composites have been used for more than 20 years and exceed all performance and safety standards set by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Following the structure’s installation earlier this month, the IACMI and its industry partners are developing a comprehensive case study based on the Morgan County bridge project, including a comparison of the total costs of a typical concrete bridge and one using an FRP bridge deck. Results are expected to be shared with federal, state, and local officials, transportation departments, and the civil engineering community after the study’s competition.

Led by IACMI and CAG, the collaboration of private companies contributed expertise and materials such as adhesives, epoxies, coatings, resins, preforms, and reinforcements to the Morgan County bridge project. These include Compsys Inc., Engineered Bonding Solutions LLC, Interplastic Corporation, Luna Innovations, McKinney Excavating Inc., METYX Composites, Neel-Schaffer Inc., SCI, Steffen Structural Engineering, Superior Fiberglass, and West System.

“Lack of durability data is one of the major barriers of the adoption of novel and advanced materials including carbon-, basalt-, or glass-fiber-reinforced polymeric composites in civil infrastructure,” said Dayakar Penumadu, the Fred N. Peebles Professor in UT’s Tickle College of Engineering and Characterization Fellow for Materials and Processing for IACMI.

“This is a major obstacle for integrating new materials and structures quickly and thus requires successful demonstration as being done through this IACMI project. Bridge decks are the most damage-prone elements, and we are integrating smart sensors distributed throughout the composite bridge deck that will provide us valuable performance data for years to come.”

Utilizing Sensors for Sustainability

In 2018, scientists based out of the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Air Force Corrosion Prevention and Control Office, working in collaboration with Luna Innovations Inc., developed a new corrosion and coating evaluation system that they say can accelerate coating materials performance evaluations.

The new evaluation system—known as CorRES—measures coatings’ ability to protect aircraft by using sensor panels that perform electrochemical measurements during corrosion testing. Unlike the more traditional visual-based testing alternative, the system records corrosion rate data throughout the course of a test and transmits the data to a base station for evaluation. In turn, this information reveals when a coating fails during a test.

The CorRES system uses sensing elements to measure free and galvanic corrosion, coating barrier properties and environmental effects on coating materials.

This past December, Purdue University engineers said that they’d developed sensors that could safely speed up construction project timelines by determining concrete strength onsite in real time. The technology, they say, could remove the need to offsite testing altogether.

At the time, the team was working with F.A. Wilhelm Construction Co. Inc. to test and compare the technology with traditional commercial sensors installed in the floor of what will be Purdue’s five-story Engineering and Polytechnic Gateway Complex. Twelve of the sensors have been installed into various sections of the Complex’s third floor so that the teams can best understand how well they work compared with commercial sensors in use on the site.

However, the team is also testing the sensors in highways across Indiana as part of an effort to better determine when concrete is ready to take on heavy truck traffic.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Fiber Reinforced Polymer (FRP); Infrastructure; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Quality Control; Research and development; Technology

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