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Significant challenges facing the US infrastructure due to climate change require robust research efforts and increased use of advanced technology and materials.
Challenges include greater environmental and weather-related stresses placed on infrastructure like hurricanes and other related weather events that cause increased exposure to moisture and similarly expose constructed assets to high wind and other factors that can damage infrastructure assets. Also, rising sea levels put increased strain on coastal maritime infrastructure.
Specialists testified before the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight of the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, & Technology during a hearing focused on preparing America’s transportation infrastructure for climate change.
Mr. Reeve of Composites Advantage testified on behalf of ACMA, “I have been in the composites industry for the bulk of my career. I founded Composite Advantage fifteen years ago after experience in aerospace composites, recognising the capability of these materials to improve our infrastructure network. Greater use of composites will allow infrastructure to be more resilient in the face of these challenges.”
Composites and advanced materials have environmental benefits that could have a positive impact on climate change. Composites have lower embodied energy, meaning they require less energy to produce. Because they are longer lasting than alternative options, they need to be replaced less and therefore manufactured and constructed less often. Because composites are lighter, they also require less fuel consumption per unit for transportation and installation.
Ranking member of the subcommittee Ralph Norman (R-SC) stated, “Composite materials like those being manufactured by Composites Advantage and other members of the American Composites Manufacturers Association are already being used to rebuild and repair our crumbling infrastructure and corroding assets. This is a great example of American innovation rising to meet the challenges facing our nation.”
Norman added that his home state, which sustained historic damages during 2016’s Hurricane Matthew and 2018’s Hurricane Florence, needed a more reliable, strong infrastructure to withstand flooding and natural disasters. He stated that the subcommittee needs to learn more about technology and innovation from advanced composites materials to additive manufacturing’ to improve the US infrastructure resilience.
TTI’s Winfree testified, “Robust research efforts must be put into place to change the traditional ways we design, build, and maintain our infrastructure. More innovative research-based and data-driven solutions are required to make significant progress in learning how to build and maintain our infrastructure to last longer and withstand extreme weather events.”
NIST is currently working to improve the resilience of American communities through research of advanced materials, including enhanced traditional materials like reinforced concrete and cement as well as the development of tools, standards and guidelines. Averill testified that NIST is conducting research with industry partners, including ACMA member companies, to build an advanced composites roadmap to move the US closer to using advanced composites for more resilient infrastructure.
ACMA continues to support a stronger, more resilient infrastructure through legislative and leadership efforts, including the introduction of the IMAGINE (Innovative Materials in American Growth and Infrastructure, Newly Expanded) Act that promotes the use of composites and advanced materials and increased research funding. ACMA President Tom Dobbins stated, “The composites industry must continue to engage and educate legislators and demonstrate a better way to build, repair, and maintain our nation’s infrastructure. The industry must also work with Congress and USDOT to advance policies that promote the adoption of 21st-century materials in our infrastructure. We owe it to the American taxpayer to give them the best solutions. Our nation’s crumbling infrastructure is also hampering our economy, so innovative materials, made in the US, can also help grow and sustain our economy.”
The testifying experts included Jason Averill, Chief of the Materials and Structural Systems Division at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Susanne DesRoches, Deputy Director for Infrastructure and Energy at the New York City Mayor’s Office of Resiliency and Office of Sustainability, Scott Reeve, President of Composite Advantage and member of the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA), and Gregory Winfree, Director of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI).
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