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Waves of the future New $13.8 million ocean engineering research facility focuses on marine-related economic development by Margaret Nagle

The wave maker at one end of the basin is capable of creating waves of varying frequency and as high as 0.8 meters (equivalent to 40 meters at full scale).

A new wind-wave research facility to strengthen marine-related economic development in Maine, including boatbuilding, opened at the University of Maine with the help of an award from the Harold Alfond Foundation.

The foundation awarded a $3.9 million grant to UMaine to match $9.98 million already raised to establish the Ocean Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing Laboratories at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center on campus. The Alfond Foundation’s award will help equip the facility, hire world-class engineers for the startup in 2015–16, and fund graduate and undergraduate students over three years.

The new facility, dedicated in a ceremony Nov. 23, is called the W2 Alfond Ocean Engineering Laboratory in honor of philanthropist Harold Alfond, a longtime UMaine benefactor.

Through the years, Harold Alfond and the Harold Alfond Foundation have made more than $15 million in gifts and pledges to the University of Maine, including naming gifts for Alfond Sports Arena and Alfond Stadium, and the creation of the annual Alfond Challenge to benefit UMaine football. The philanthropy has benefited hundreds of students, fans and other members of the UMaine community.

The world-class ocean engineering facility will assist businesses in developing products for the ocean economy, including improved boat and ship hulls; ocean energy devices such as wind, wave and tidal energy; aquaculture facilities; oil and gas structures; waterfront infrastructure, such as bridges, piers, docks and port facilities; and systems to protect coastal cities from the effects of erosion, sea-level rise and extreme storms.

Through it all, undergraduate and graduate students will receive hands-on training in the research and technology, joining more than 1,800 students who have gained real-world experience at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center since its inception in 1996.

“We are investing in people and infrastructure that will support ocean engineering and advanced manufacturing education and research, and grow Maine jobs,” says Gregory Powell, chairman of the Harold Alfond Foundation.

The unique facility is equipped with a high-performance rotating wind machine over a wave basin, which can simulate some of the largest wind and wave storms seen on Earth. The basin will be an important resource for companies in Maine and throughout the world to develop next-generation ocean devices and structures.

In an ocean state such as Maine, an important part of the economy revolves around our ability to harness the Gulf of Maine’s full potential, while protecting its delicate ecosystem, says Habib Dagher, executive director of the UMaine Composites Center and the BIW Professor of Structural Engineering.

Wind wave facility

The multipaddle wave basin has a rotatable wind machine, producing velocities up to 7 meters per second, for simultaneous application of scaled wind and wave environments for sophisticated floating body model testing. The concrete floor moves up and down to model ocean depths.

“These will be the only labs of their kind in Maine with world-class capabilities to educate students, and conduct cutting-edge research and development,” says Dagher. “The R&D will support the growth of the ocean economies and shipbuilding sectors in Maine and the nation, as well as the growth of digital and additive manufacturing of thermoplastic composite materials.”

The Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory for thermoplastic composites will utilize digital, additive and robotics manufacturing to reduce cycle time and cost. Structural thermoplastics are recyclable materials that could transform composite materials used in cars, ships, boats and aerospace applications.

In June, the Composites Center received $497,965 from the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop a national road map for advanced manufacturing of structural thermoplastics composites materials.

We are investing in people and infrastructure that will support ocean engineering and advanced manufacturing education and research, and grow Maine jobs.”
Gregory Powell

The total construction, equipping, and startup of the new laboratories over the first three years will cost more than $13.8 million. Of that, the center had raised more than $9.98 million through four grant competitions, which included funding through the U.S. Economic Development Administration, National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Maine Technology Institute and a voter-approved bond.

Commercial testing in the facility is expected to begin in April.

The Composites Center is the largest science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research and development program located at a Maine university, and is key to one of the seven University of Maine Signature Areas of Excellence — Advanced Materials for Infrastructure and Energy.

Since it was established with funding from the National Science Foundation, the UMaine Composites Center’s researchers and students have led award-winning R&D projects with more than 500 Maine-based, national and international companies. The mission of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center is to apply the comparative advantages offered by Maine industries, labor and natural resources to conduct world-leading research, educate Maine students, and develop Maine’s economy while encompassing the material science, manufacturing and engineering of composites and structures.

Research at the 100,000-square-foot laboratory facility has resulted in 42 issued and pending patents, more than 500 published technical papers, and the creation of Maine spin-off companies through licensing agreements of its inventions, patents or trade secrets. This earned the UMaine Composites Center the 2008 Maine Development Foundation’s Champion of Economic Development Award.

In addition, the center has received 40 national and international awards, including the Charles Pankow Award for Innovation from the American Society of Civil Engineers, the top global innovation award for its Bridge-in-a-BackpackTM technology; and the Engineering Excellence Award of the American Council of Engineering Companies.

With funding from the Department of Energy, the Composites Center has pioneered development of ocean energy technologies, deploying in 2013 the first grid-connected floating offshore wind turbine in the U.S. in partnership with 30 organizations.

Advanced Infrastructure Technologies, a 2008 spin-off, constructed 20 bridges and became the first composite technology bridge system to be approved in the U.S. AASHTO highway code. It is now an international company after installing a bridge in Trinidad.

In addition, Compotech Inc., located in Brewer, spun off the center in 2014 to commercialize blast and ballistic technologies.

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Fall/Winter 2015

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