ORONO, Maine — Researchers at the University of Maine’s Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center have been awarded a patent for new technology that could change waterfront construction methods for both large companies and individuals.
The AEWC researchers have developed extruded composite sheet piling panels that connect to each other to form retaining walls on waterfront property.
The panel material is a composite of wood flour, which is a very fine sawdust, and plastic resin from either new, recycled or a combination of materials.
“We’re very excited about it,” AEWC director Habib Dagher said. “It’s a unique technology and it utilizes two waste materials.”
It’s also a technology that could be used extensively in Maine, considering the state’s long coastline and vast inland waterways.
The panels are ready for the market now, although AEWC officials will set up demonstrations of the panels in lakefront, riverfront and oceanfront sites so the industry can see how the panels work.
“Now that we’ve received the patent, we’re looking for opportunities to use this material in the environment,” Dagher said. “Once we have a number of demonstrations, we hope the industry would produce it for commercial operation. … There’s a large market for this technology, not only in Maine but in the U.S. and beyond.”
The panels are resistant to corrosion, he said, and could last two to three times as long as traditional materials such as steel, concrete and wood. Unlike pressure-treated wood, there are no chemicals in the new material that could leach into the water.
The panels are strong enough to be driven into the ground and light enough to be lifted by one person, according to Dagher. The panels can be made in any color using new or recycled materials.
The wood composite center already has had calls from companies interested in the technology.
“There’s certainly been quite a bit of interest,” he said. “Our goal is to license it to a Maine company, to create jobs in Maine.”
The patent was filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in December 2003 and authorized on Aug. 26, 2008. But Dagher and his staff just recently learned they received the patent.
Dagher worked on the patent with Roberto A. Lopez-Anido, who is a University of Maine associate professor of civil and environmental engineering; Douglas J. Gardner, a UMaine professor of wood science and technology; and former College of Engineering graduate students Matthew Dura and Katherine Stephens, who worked on the project when they were at UMaine.
AEWC has received patents on a host of other composite building materials for the commercial sector, including materials for bridges and tents.