Rowan University’s Center for Research & Education in Advanced Transportation Engineering Systems (CREATES) has been awarded a $30 million, five-year contract—with the first two years funded at $11.5 million— from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), to expand Arctic region research.
Led by Yusuf Mehta, Ph.D., and Ayman Ali, Ph.D., CREATES researchers are developing innovative construction technologies and materials to withstand fluctuating temperatures and surface conditions in cold regions impacted by climate change. The work spans a wide range of projects, including the design and evaluation of new pavement materials, as well as their production and maintenance.
Among other projects, the additional Army Ground Advanced Technology funding will support:
Rising temperatures, thawing permafrost and eroding coastlines are challenging the military’s transportation infrastructure in the Arctic, affecting roads, runways and bridges. Research engineers from ERDC’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) work closely with universities around the country, guiding studies, providing expertise and helping to develop the next generation of engineers.
“Our collaboration with Army Corps research engineers allows us to explore creative solutions for cold regions, from pavements that can melt ice and detect frost to more resilient asphalt and concrete materials that can withstand cold conditions,” Mehta said. “Even better, we’re developing the next generation of engineers who will continue to advance the field of transportation engineering.”
Accompanied by a team of scientists, Dr. Ivan Beckman, CRREL deputy director, spent several days recently at Rowan University visiting labs and hearing the latest updates on the center’s progress. He said he was impressed by the center’s facilities, laboratories and procedures, as well as the professionalism of Rowan faculty and students.
“The lifeblood of CRREL is academia,” Beckman said. “Students, scientific research and very basic scientific understanding is very important to our mission and cold regions research. We always seek out great ideas and great partnerships with universities.”
In addition to site visits, Danielle Kennedy, CRREL program director and a research civil engineer, meets weekly with various teams from CREATES.
“We have been working with Rowan since 2016 and the CREATES program has grown a lot since then,” Kennedy noted. “It’s helped us grow our technology areas at the ERDC a lot, as well. We’re going to conferences with the students and presenting work together. We’re publishing papers together. It’s really been a beneficial relationship for both ERDC and Rowan. I think there’s a lot of potential for future capabilities with all these projects that we’re developing now.”
The collaboration includes workforce development. Earlier this year, CRREL hired Seth Wagner, a Rowan University doctoral student at CREATES. Wagner visited campus recently in his professional capacity.
“I went through graduate school specifically so I could continue doing research,” said Wagner, a civil engineer who received his bachelor’s degree in 2016 and his master’s degree in 2019, both from Rowan. “And now I’m being paid full time to do research. It’s pretty much exactly what I was looking for.”
Besides driving innovation and developing new technologies, the center is fully invested in workforce development, noted Rowan University Provost Tony Lowman.
“Ever since CREATES launched in 2016, Dr. Mehta and his team have worked with industry and government partners to meet their needs for workforce training and research goals,” Lowman said. “What has been particularly successful is how well they prepare students to continue that work after graduation. This close working relationship with our partners is exactly what we hoped to accomplish and we’re excited to see where our graduates go next.”
In addition to projects and internships for undergraduates, more than 40 master’s and doctoral students in the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering are pursuing CREATES-related research, contributing to the rapid growth of the college’s graduate programs, said Dean Giuseppe Palmese.
“Dr. Mehta and his colleagues are demonstrating the power of our hands-on, minds-on engineering education,” Palmese said. “This award will significantly expand research opportunities for many more students. Their work will make an impact.”
The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) is collaborating with the Navy to reinforce quay walls, which are areas around a wharf or pier that hold back dirt.
ERDC’s Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory (CHL) recently hosted a materials workshop for the Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11, assigned to Naval Construction Group TWO and stationed in Gulfport, Mississippi.
An offshoot of the laboratory’s quay wall improvement project, the group explored the method of using fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) material to build sheet pile walls.
A quay wall extension usually has a deck on top that can be used for loading or unloading a boat. Sheet piles are sections of sheet materials with interlocking edges that are driven into the ground to form the wall. Traditional sheet piles are made of steel; however, FRP is a composite material made of a polymer matrix reinforced with fibers.
“It’s an improvement over steel, because it’s a lot lighter,” said Capt. Patrick Border, a research engineer with ERDC-CHL. “It’s a lot cheaper and reduces the amount of equipment needed to handle it, which makes it attractive for uses in remote locations. It’s also resistant to environmental factors like sea water and ultraviolet.”
“You can cut it into a variety of lengths either ahead of time or on site,” he said. “The material can be shipped inside CONEX boxes and can even be picked up by hand with just a couple of people. It’s very easy to work with, and it’s quick to construct.”
The Navy became interested in the material after completing a quay wall restoration project with ERDC-CHL earlier this year.
“We collaborated on a project in Gulfport where we built a small extension of a pier out of the quay wall material,” said Border. “It worked out pretty well, so they wanted to send some of their builders up here to train on the material.”
With the success of the workshop, the laboratory has hopes of expanding into a broader program.
“Hopefully, this year or next year we’ll have another group coming through,” said Border. “We currently don’t have a formalized class, but we are trying to move in that direction.”
In the meantime, CHL has a few more renovation projects coming up that will benefit from the use of the FRP sheet piles.
“We have projects at Camp Shelby and the Port of Gulfport,” said Border. “There’s two on islands — one in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific — that have been identified for quay wall restoration with this material.”
“From the Army’s point of view, we used to have a lot of capability to repair ports, but that’s weathered away over the past couple of decades,” he added. “We are trying to get back into that, and this new material will make it much easier to do larger construction missions.”
The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) is conducting innovative research on advanced materials and manufacturing technologies that will play a vital role in both civilian and military applications.
Researchers in ERDC’s Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory (GSL) are focusing on key areas such as Civil and Military Engineering, Blast and Weapons Effects on Structures and Geomaterials and Military Installations and Infrastructure.
“ERDC is one of the key research and development (R&D) organizations in the Department of Defense (DoD),” said Dr. Robert Moser, Senior Scientific Technical Manager with GSL, adding that ERDC is also one of four Science and Technology labs within the DoD that contributes mission-critical competencies.”
Within ERDC’s core competency of Blast and Weapons Effects on Structures and Geomaterials, researchers are working to utilize advanced materials technologies to protect the Warfighter from a range of threats. These materials range from concrete and geomaterials to advanced metals and composites. Unique experiments conducted at ERDC support these research activities and assist in the development of advanced computational models that aid in designing new materials and engineering their applications in infrastructure systems.
“Making true advancements and innovation in these fields requires a unique combination of disciplines— from materials science to structural engineers and computational modeling,” said Moser.
Another military engineering research area at ERDC focuses on force projection and maneuver support technologies - how military and support systems maneuver from place to place. ERDC engineers develop steel or concrete structures to protect Soldiers, facilities and critical infrastructure, while researchers analyze the materials necessary to make rapid infrastructure repairs or upgrade the capacity to support future operations. Such systems include rapid bridging, port construction and new lightweight material technologies.
Infrastructure is not only important on military installations, but it is also vital for civil applications such as dams, levees and hydropower projects. Current issues like an increase in natural disasters, aging infrastructure and future modernization requirements to support economic competitiveness are often underpinned by advancements in materials that support improved sustainability and resilience of critical infrastructure systems.
“We enhance our ability to accomplish the mission by making our systems more sustainable and resilient,” said Moser.
From the sustainability perspective, the goal is to minimize waste of materials and energy use, which can be accomplished by using local and indigenous resources and less fuel. Resilience applies to maintaining or accomplishing the mission under any adversity.
To carry out this mission-essential work, ERDC relies on a strong network of partners across the government, industry and academia. Additionally, growing a future workforce with the STEM skills needed to support critical DoD research is another key factor in mission success. From STEM outreach events and local schools/universities training students, Moser said that the work accomplished at ERDC wouldn’t be possible without the support and collaboration of its partners.
“The ecosystem that is developing here is really exciting as we work to align with strategic initiatives across ERDC and the entire Corps of Engineers,” said Moser. “All of these new innovations and how we integrate them across our missions will help us solve the Nation’s toughest problems.”