ORONO, Maine — A proprietary bridge design developed at the University of Maine is about to get a significant boost that could help it spread across North America and eventually overseas.
Terre Armee Group, which oversees more than 30 construction and engineering companies across the globe, has agreed to market and distribute Bridge-in-a-Backpack, which uses an innovative construction design to reduce the time and materials needed to erect structurally sound bridges. In the U.S., Terre Armee is better known as Reinforced Earth.
An agreement between Terre Armee and Advanced Infrastructure Technologies, which was formed in 2010 to sell the bridge design, was announced Thursday at UMaine.
“Adding the composite arch bridge system to our portfolio is an exciting development that will fuel the growth of both Terre Armee and AIT in the coming years,” said Roger Bloomfield, CEO of Terre Armee.
Bridge-in-a-Backpack uses inflatable arch structures that can be transported to a site in bags resembling hockey duffles. Once on site, the arches are inflated and infused with resin, forming a lightweight hollow arch. The arches are filled with concrete and used to support the rest of the bridge. This construction method doesn’t require as much heavy equipment, uses fewer people and takes significantly less time and money than a traditional bridge construction project.
The arches aren’t as susceptible to corrosion and have a lifespan of up to 100 years. Many of the bridge projects can be completed within just two to three weeks.
UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, led by Habib Dagher, started developing the technology around 2000, and it spent 10 years testing and proving it. In 2010, it went to market through Advanced Infrastructure Technologies.
“Terre Armee will give us a level of access to the market that we haven’t seen before,” said Brit Svoboda, CEO at Advanced Infrastructure Technologies.
Since 2010, Advanced Infrastructure Technologies has sold and completed 20 bridges in the United States — 11 in Maine, three in Michigan, two each in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, and one each in New Hampshire and Vermont. Internationally, they’ve sold one in Trinidad and Tobago. A few more projects are in the works, Svoboda said.
In its first year, Advanced Infrastructure Technologies and Russian officials were close to a deal in which Bridge-in-a-Backpack would be used in construction projects related to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but Svoboda said trade issues ultimately prevented that from happening.
Advanced Infrastructure Technologies’ small staff of 10 has spent years gaining approvals from the federal and individual state governments needed to allow the construction of its first composite arch bridges. Sales have been slow but steady, as each bridge has an 18- to 36-month sale cycle, depending on the size of the project.
“We were able to get some recognition and awareness started in the market,“ Svoboda said. Now, the role of marketing and selling the bridges passes largely to Terre Armee, while Advanced Infrastructure Technologies will handle engineering. As more projects emerge, Advanced Infrastructure Technologies may need to hire additional engineers, according to Svoboda.
Bloomfield said Terre Armee’s marketing efforts for Bridge-in-a-Backpack are “already starting up,” and that its sales team is working on estimates for a couple of potential projects.
“We really look forward to taking this product to new markets,” Bloomfield said.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.