Volcon Inc. (NASDAQ: VLCN) (“Volcon” or the “Company”), the first all-electric, off-road powersports company, announced today the signing of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the United States Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (ERDC). Volcon believes this collaboration marks a significant step forward in the development of EV technology for both civilian and military applications.
Under the terms of this CRADA, Volcon and ERDC will collaborate on research and development efforts aimed at enhancing the capabilities of electric vehicles, with a focus on creating dual-use products that benefit both warfighters and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in their support of emergency services disaster response.
Key objectives of this collaboration include:
This agreement represents a significant step toward addressing known challenges in the EV sector, such as remote tactical recharging, vehicle-to-grid, and microgrid charging, and looks to maximize power efficiency while reducing reliance on traditional fuel-based energy generation.
By working together with ERDC, Volcon aims to create scalable EV solutions that benefit federal, state, and local governments, as well as the Department of Defense (DoD). This collaboration embodies the spirit of the Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986 and Army Regulation 70-57, which encourage the private sector to leverage federally funded technology developments for the betterment of the United States.
“We are very excited to be working with the Army Corps. We believe that their decades of experience in engineering solutions for the battlefield will bear real fruit for Volcon in the commercial markets. This agreement is crafted in a way that mutually benefits the parties by creating real-world solutions and product features that can be monetized in the future,” said Jordan Davis, Volcon CEO. “On the one hand, we get to play a real role in benefiting the warfighter and humanitarian efforts where our electric vehicles can play a role, all while harvesting technology that may be deployed to commercial segments as well.”
Volcon ePowersports is excited about the potential this collaboration holds for the future of the Company, electric vehicle technology in general, and its broader applications. Together with ERDC, the Company looks forward to advancing the state of the art in EV technology and contributing to a more sustainable and efficient future.
About Volcon, Inc
Based in the Austin, Texas area, Volcon was founded as the first all-electric power sports company producing high-quality and sustainable electric vehicles for the outdoor community. Volcon electric vehicles are the future of off-roading, not only because of their environmental benefits but also because of their near-silent operation, which allows for a more immersive outdoor experience.
Volcon's vehicle roadmap includes both motorcycles and UTVs. Its first product, the innovative Grunt, began shipping to customers in late 2021 and combines a fat-tired physique with high-torque electric power and a near-silent drive train. The Volcon Grunt EVO, an evolution of the original Grunt with a belt drive, an improved suspension and seat, began shipping to customers in September 2023. Volcon will also offer the Runt LT, a fun-sized version of the groundbreaking Grunt, better suited for small-statured riders, more compact properties and trails, or as a pit bike at race events, while still delivering robust off-road capabilities. The Brat is Volcon’s first foray into the wildly popular eBike market for both on road and off-road riding and is currently being delivered to dealers across North America. Volcon is also currently delivering the Volcon Youth Line of dirt bikes for younger riders between the ages of 4 to 11. Volcon debuted the Stag in July 2023 and entered the rapidly expanding UTV market and previously announced that it will begin shipping the Stag to customers in October 2023. The Stag empowers the driver to explore the outdoors in a new and unique way that gas-powered UTVs cannot. The Stag offers the same thrilling performance of a standard UTV without the noise (or pollution), allowing the driver to explore the outdoors with all their senses.
About United States Army Engineer Research and Development Center
The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) is one of the most diverse engineering and scientific research organizations in the world and serves as the research and development arm of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. With seven laboratories in four states and a workforce of more than 2,330 employees, ERDC conducts research and development in support of the warfighter, military installations and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil works mission, as well as for other federal agencies, state and municipal authorities and with U.S. industries through innovative work agreements.
As residents of Louisiana prepare for possible disruptions in their drinking water caused by saltwater intrusion, researchers from the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) are assisting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) New Orleans District with assessment and mitigation efforts.
With much of the lower Mississippi River Valley experiencing extreme drought conditions, the lack of rainfall has led to lower levels of fresh water in the Mississippi River, allowing for a denser layer of salt water from the Gulf of Mexico to make its way upstream, threatening the drinking water supplies in several Louisiana communities, including the city of New Orleans.
River conditions are low and have been for some time. The bed of the Mississippi River is much lower than the sea level in the Gulf of Mexico, and if there's not enough fresh water to apply pressure to keep the salt water in the Gulf of Mexico, then it slowly migrates upstream in the shape of a wedge.
“When fluids of different densities encounter each other — which in this case, salt water is denser than fresh water — they tend to stratify,” said Gary Brown, a research hydraulic engineer with the ERDC’s Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory. “So, the fresh water flows over the salt water, and the salt water flows under the fresh water.”
Salt water has been steadily migrating upstream against the current, and as long as those low river conditions persist, without intervention, that upstream migration will persist.
“Salt is not something that you can conventionally deal with in drinking water filtration,” said Brown. “You can't filter it out of the water, and it corrodes the pipes. It's a significant issue, not only for drinking, but also for agriculture and livestock.”
Though it’s a relatively new term to many, experts at ERDC have been studying these saltwater wedges and intrusion for decades.
“We owe a lot of our knowledge of the salt wedge and salt dynamics to the work that has been done here at ERDC over the years by many different people,” said Brown. “We have much understanding of the basic physics of saltwater wedges, and a lot of that pioneering research was done right here. There was a lot of the early physical and numerical modeling of salt wedges that was developed here, as well.”
To help assess the current conditions, the team is using a basic model they developed with a freshwater layer on a saltwater layer that interact.
“We have a fairly simplified model of the Mississippi River, but it's pretty effective,” said Brown. “It's been successful at predicting where the salt's going to be, and it runs quickly allowing for a lot of ‘what if’ analysis.”
“This is an emergency operation, and we need really quick turnaround of our assessments,” he continued. “We want to be able to do a lot of assessments, not only of what may happen in the future, but also what effects some of our interventions may have. With this tool, we can run very rapid, quick assessments.”
Though ERDC is known for its expertise in research and development, the organization often assists in actionable, emergency operations support — events that are happening right away and impacting a lot of people’s lives immediately.
“Gary and his team have been unwavering in their support to the New Orleans District’s Lower Mississippi River Engineering Branch during this event,” said David Ramirez, chief of the Lower Mississippi River and Tributaries Branch at the New Orleans District. “Their technical assistance by refining an existing hydrodynamic model of the Lower Mississippi River enabled us to respond quickly to this crisis and provide technical information — such as salinity intrusion progress and influence of the natural crevasses along the east bank of the Lower Mississippi River — to USACE leadership and the local governments.”
“The role we play is to try to provide the best information in real-time to support the decision makers,” said Brown. “It's our job to provide the best objective analysis we can — even if that objective analysis is bad news — so that the decision makers can have the opportunity to make the most informed, rational decisions.”
That work is still being used to provide critical data to the Water Management Section and the District Commander, who make real-time operational decisions.
“One of the main products from ERDC is the forecasted salinity locations,” said Ramirez. “The official timeline of when municipal freshwater intakes may be impacted is developed directly from these results. The data is also being used by many local and state government leaders to plan and design saltwater intrusion mitigation strategies.”
“We are working very hard with the district to try to mitigate this issue as much as possible,” said Brown. “We recognize that this is a serious situation for a lot of people in the New Orleans area and the downstream communities. It's a privilege to be able to do something like this and possibly impact people's lives.”
“Gary and his team continue to offer transformative novel, but technically sound, applied solutions to the district at the operational timescale immediately useable for decision making,” said Ramirez. “Cutting-edge technology for decision making today is a rare commodity at the best research intuitions, and we had that luxury through the current emergency saltwater intrusion operations thanks to Gary and the team at ERDC.”
More than 150 people attended the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville (Huntsville Center) Energy Workshop Aug. 1-3 at the Jackson Center located in Huntsville’s Cummins Research Park.
The focus of the workshop was Huntsville Center’s capabilities in the Energy Savings Performance Contracting (ESPC) and Utility Energy Services Contracting (UESC) programs.
This year's theme as "Innovation and New Technology Integration."
Jon Winkler, Huntsville Center Energy Division chief, said Huntsville Center holds this annual workshop for customers and stakeholders, utility providers and all Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) holding contracts on the Center’s $1.5 billion Multiple Award Task Order Contract (MATOC).
“Huntsville Center considers events like these essential for ‘cross-leveling’ fundamental knowledge of industry trends and innovations to make what we all do better,” Winkler said.
Huntsville Center’s customers include Army, Navy and Air Force garrisons, Army Material Command (AMC), Installation Management Command (IMCOM), Deputy Chief of Staff of Army (DCS-G9), Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy and Sustainment (DASA-ES), Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment (ASA-IEE), Air Force Civil Engineer Center (AFCEC), Washington Headquarters Services (WHS), and Headquarters US Army Corps of Engineers (HQUSACE).
Patty Mooneyham, UESC Program Manager, said Huntsville Center is considered the Army's expert in third-party financing and utility negotiation energy due to its unique ability to provide support world-wide.
“Unlike other U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Divisions and Districts, Huntsville Center has no geographic boundaries allowing the Center to develop, award, and maintain long-term energy projects worldwide,” Mooneyham said.
Guest speakers for the event were Rep. Gary Palmer, Alabama 6th District and member of the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Energy, Grid Security, and Climate Change, and Brendan Owens, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Defense, Energy, Environment, and Infrastructure.
Other speakers include Christine Ploschke, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy and Sustainability; Susan Call, Department of Defense Installation Clean Energy & Energy Efficiency; William Kidd, Army Installation Management Command G4 Facilities and Logistics director and Drew White, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Installation Readiness Division chief.
The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has announced the signing of an Educational Partnership Agreement and a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with the United States Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), the premier research and development center for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The EPA between UIUC and the U.S. Army ERDC will encourage and enhance study in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, such as materials engineering, computer and data science, digital twinning, material science, physics, robotics, supply chain logistics, and sustainability and resilience.
Meanwhile, the CRADA will enable closer collaboration with ERDC and UIUC, especially with the Grainger College of Engineering, in research efforts of interest to the military.
These agreements cement a long-standing relationship between UIUC and ERDC. The UIUC campus has played host to the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory, one of ERDC’s seven laboratories, since 1969.
“Under this partnership, CERL reaches into the university for support from UIUC students and interns who work with CERL engineers and scientists to conduct cutting-edge R&D while working side-by-side with some of the best researchers in the world,” said Dr. David Pittman, director of the ERDC and chief scientist for the Army Corps of Engineers. “Quite simply, successful outcomes to the CERL and ERDC mission would not be possible without the support of these students, interns and faculty."
Highlights of that strategic partnership include adapting 3D printing methodology for additive construction; developing an improved system for washing military vehicles; creating the Digital Opacity Method, which used off-the-shelf still cameras and modeling software to measure atmospheric plume opacity efficiently and accurately; developing a facility for earthquake engineering and shock testing; and evaluating micro-hydro units for army resilience.
“UIUC has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with the ERDC that began more than 50 years ago with the founding of CERL on our campus. Our civil and environmental engineers, among others, have partnered with CERL scientists to solve some of our military’s most immediate and complex challenges,” said Rashid Bashir, dean of UIUC’s Grainger College of Engineering. “This agreement will further reduce the barriers of collaboration between our two organizations to enhance educational efforts that are essential to our nation’s well-being.”
Emerging chemicals of environmental concern in water represent a major challenge for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in terms of exposure risks to humans and the environment.
The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) is working to understand detection, fate and transport, and remediation of a group of these chemicals, generally known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
PFAS are found in everyday consumer products — from non-stick cookware to water-resistant clothing. They are also found in certain foams, known as aqueous film forming foam, used to fight fires on military and commercial airfields. PFAS may enter the environment at sites where these chemicals are made, used or disposed of and can make their way into groundwater systems through runoff or soil seepage.
The Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) and the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP), funded by the Department of Defense, have a core mission to address challenges, such as PFAS, and improve environmental performance.
ERDC partnered with SERDP/ESTCP on a project to identify the best technologies to characterize, treat and manage PFAS in groundwater environments, as well as to determine how mineral-based amendments can increase the removal efficiency of natural sediments.
“The project’s goal is to understand how substances like activated carbon and iron can aid in immobilizing PFAS from groundwater and how altering key chemical variables, like concentration and ionic strength, will impact adsorption over time,” said Dr. Amanda Barker, a research chemist with ERDC’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory. “Our work also investigates overall amendment integrity and how it might physically change once distributed in groundwater systems.”
Using amendments as a simple and rapid tool to remove PFAS from groundwater is ideal for remote locations or those where it isn’t possible to completely remove impacted soil and groundwater and destroy the PFAS.
“Removal of groundwater and soil is difficult and costly, and we’ve shown amendments may aid in reducing the risk of off-site migration, which at the very least would potentially slow down the risk to humans and the environment,” Barker said.
In a laboratory setting, Barker and her team have been able to show complete removal of select PFAS using activated carbon sourced from peat mixed with iron.
“We are very excited about our recent developments as this information will be able to directly aid other basic research programs interested in understanding how PFAS migrate in the environment,” she said.
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.”
Researchers with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s (ERDC) Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) recently collaborated with government and industry partners to develop a new way to offer relief in a time of emergency and natural disasters.
The technology, a zero-emission fuel cell-powered emergency vehicle, is a culmination of work from a consortium of federal agencies and industry partners including the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office and Vehicle Technologies Office, the U.S. Army Ground Vehicle Systems Center, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science & Technology Directorate, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and Accelera™ by Cummins.
Natural disasters are occurring at an ever-increasing rate throughout the United States. From hurricanes and forest fires to flooding and many other disaster events, there is a critical need to deploy specialty disaster relief vehicles that can provide electric power, heat, water and essential supplies to begin recovery efforts.
The zero-emission, fuel cell-powered emergency vehicle, called H2@Rescue, has a driving range of 180 miles round trip and provides up to 25 kilowatts load-following exportable power for up to 72 hours once on site.
“H2@Rescue was created in 2019, through a multi-agency brainstorming effort,” said Nick Josefik, an industrial engineer at CERL. “We saw a string of natural disasters affecting communities across our country, and we believed hydrogen and fuel cell technology could aid the relief effort.”
The boxed bed of the vehicle is climate controlled and can act as a mobile command center or warming/cooling space during an emergency. The fuel cell also produces water, which when treated, could be used as an asset during an emergency.
H2@Rescue is a Class 7 Heavy duty boxed truck weighing approximately 33,000 pounds, which makes it Department of Transportation roadworthy. The truck carries a maximum of 176 kilograms of hydrogen at 700 bar.
“Fuel cell vehicles provide exportable power, water and medium-grade heat,” said Josefik. “The technology readiness of fuel cells and hydrogen technologies make a fuel cell-battery hybrid emergency relief vehicle a strong candidate for disaster recovery operations.”
H2@Rescue was first field tested at the Accelera facility in West Sacramento, California, to analyze performance in varying topographical and climatic regions. During the demonstration, the vehicle drove from West Sacramento to Oakland, California. The180 miles of drive distance was chosen to show that the technology could support neighboring communities if they were affected by a disaster.
“This field test showcases H2@Rescue and demonstrates the vehicle’s ability to drive to distant locations and provide initial emergency power,” said Josefik.
Those involved with the test said they were very pleased with the results, and that H2@Rescue met the performance goals set at the start of the project, proving that fuel cell-powered vehicles provide a viable option in emergency relief.
“H2@Rescue is an exciting application for Accelera’s hydrogen fuel cell solution, and we’re proud to work alongside government partners to develop sustainable emergency aid of the future,” said Alison Trueblood, General Manager of Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Technologies at Accelera. “Hydrogen technology provides the power and range required for the demands of emergency response teams in times of disaster, and this project demonstrates the role hydrogen can play in decarbonizing critical sectors.”
Recently, the Holistic Situational Awareness and Decision Making (HAS-DM) team at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center got a unique opportunity to gain real-world experience and collect vital data that will be used to develop technologies for potential integration into the upcoming Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft and Future Long Range Assault Aircraft.
The team, based in ERDC’s Information Technology Laboratory, visited the General Dynamics Information Technology rotorcraft simulation training facility at Fort Rucker, Alabama for hands-on experience to use in their work to develop aircraft technologies.
“This was an invaluable experience,” said Dr. Alicia Ruvinsky of the ERDC Information Technology Laboratory, where the HAS-DM team is based. “The goal of my research is to understand how artificial intelligence can serve to effectively, optimally and seamlessly integrate into human cognitive processes to help people do better work. Though the simulation time was very informative for building awareness of the context of a rotorcraft pilot, the most critical part of this experience to my research was hearing firsthand from our instructor pilots about how they define situational awareness (SA) and how they describe how SA changes as the situation changes or as their experience changes.”
Working with flight instructors, the team participated in three simulation events, each with a specific objective: first, to identify data and information used and produced by pilot and co-pilot teams throughout phases of flight; second, to identify the flow of information between crew members, ground station and the aircraft; and third, to develop an understanding of operational SA and characteristics that distinguish processes and mechanisms relating to establishing, maintaining and regaining SA. Each simulation included both a pre-brief and an out-brief, discussions that were immensely valuable for planning simulation content and better understanding what the team observed during the experience.
“This experience provided me the opportunity to verify information that I had been collecting over the past several months through a series of pilot interviews,” said Dr. Cody Salter, who led the first objective. “As a researcher, being afforded the opportunity to verify results through a real-world experience was invaluable and really cool. Finally, and most importantly, the experience made the research real. I now understand why maintaining SA is so difficult and how easily you can become overwhelmed. This is why our research is so important and how it could save lives.”
“Watching and listening to the pilots interact with the aircraft displays and onboard and ground crew made it incredibly easy to identify the information flows throughout the phases of flights and during different tasks,” added LaKenya Walker, who led the second objective.
The HAS-DM effort has a projected timeline through Fiscal Year 2026 and the ITL team – brought on in January 2022 – is currently funded through June 2024 by the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation and Missile Center Technical Development Directorate. The overall goal is to create a computational, holistic SA decision-support capability to enable an optimal and manageable cognitive workflow for rotorcraft pilots, and the ITL team is specifically working to define and design a data environment to host SA data in a manner that enables fast, prioritized and efficient dissemination to human and/or computational analytic workflows.
“HSA-DM will improve combat mission performance of novice, overloaded, fatigued and injured Future Vertical Lift pilots and copilots by providing optimized task loading, thereby increasing warfighter lethality and survivability,” said Ruvinsky, who led the third and final objective during this recent simulation event. “This will improve the pilot/copilot’s ability to respond effectively to dynamic and hostile development in the operational space. The impact of the data environment is to support the identification and dissemination of relevant situational awareness data to the point of analytic need.”
As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) works to modernize the nation’s infrastructure, it does so at a time when existing infrastructure components are operating well past their original lifespans. In the case of many of the locks supporting inland navigation, new techniques and technologies are critical to make sure lock facilities – some built in the 1930s – continue operating for another 100 years or more.
The key to that mission’s success may already exist in a material used consistently in military applications, private industry and in Europe, but one that has not yet been put to work in our nation’s civil works projects.
Ultra-High Performance Concrete (UHPC) is a class of concrete well known for its strength, durability and sustainability. It is also a material very well understood by engineers and scientists at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) and is at the center of what may be the future of new construction and rehabilitation of U.S. lock operations.
“We have been using UHPCs for a long time in military applications, such as hardening structures and force protection applications,” said Dr. Stephanie Wood, a research civil engineer at ERDC’s Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory. “Our experience with UHPCs goes back to even before we were ERDC, when the facility was known as the Waterways Experiment Station.
“We have been part of developing those concretes, testing them. Using our extreme weather facility at Treat Island, Maine, we have tested these concretes in that environment for decades. So, we are very confident in our capabilities, and in the performance of this strong and durable material.”
Thanks to years of ERDC research, engineers are now working with USACE to adopt the use of pre-cast UHPC panels for lock wall rehabilitation projects, replacing those made from traditional concrete and then covered with horizontal steel armor. Currently, the steel armor is cast into concrete panels in the precast manufacturing plant as horizontal strips.
The UHPC panels are not only stronger and more durable than those made with conventional concrete, but they do also not require steel armor.
Currently, damaged or deteriorated lock walls are repaired using traditional concrete with strengths ranging from 5,000 to 8,000 pounds per square inch (PSI). USACE District crews remove the damaged concrete down to the sound concrete. A pre-cast concrete is then placed over the sound concrete, and concrete is poured behind the panels to attach to the larger structure. “Those panels have been performing fairly well in the field, but sometimes we have issues with the steel armor,” Wood said. “Through normal operations of barge traffic, the armor and panels will get struck by barges. The metal will get caught, at times, and start pulling away from the concrete, creating a hazard, and in some cases, lock operators can no longer use that part of the lock chamber until repairs are made.”
In 2018, the Rock Island District issued a statement of need, asking if UHPC could be a substitute for current methods. Over the next three years, ERDC tested UHPC, discovering techniques that not only created a stronger and more resilient material, but also developed processes and guidance on how UHPC panels could be created using materials already on hand at concrete manufacturing facilities throughout the country.
During small-scale and large-scale testing, engineers also showed panels created with UHPC could be made thinner than those using conventional concrete.
“Panels using conventional concrete are traditionally 6-to-8 inches thick, which makes them pretty heavy and cumbersome. This requires USACE teams to have a very large crane on site to put them in place,” Wood said. “Not only does it take up a large footprint on site, but often times the crane requires just as many truck loads to haul it to the site as the panels themselves, which was the impetus of the statement of need from Rock Island.”
UHPC panels are no thicker than three inches and cure to a strength of 22,000 PSI in just 28 days. Using tests and data from more than three decades of research, ERDC tested the UHPC panels, including simulating what would happen if the panels were struck by a barge. The results validated the exceptional strength and durability of the UHPC panel.
“We have eliminated the coarse aggregate, or the rock, out of this mixture,” Wood said. “By eliminating the coarse aggregate, we have also eliminated the interfacial transition zone, which is where the cementitious paste meets the aggregate particle. This zone is typically the weakest location in conventional concrete, and we don’t have that in UHPC.”
Now that research proves the panels are stronger and more durable, the goal is to increase their usage in USACE projects.
“The biggest obstacles to overcome are the unfamiliarity with the product and with the technology, and the cost,” Wood said. “For most people, the only thing they do know about UHPC is that it is more costly up front.”
But that may no longer be an issue, Wood said.
The costs associated with the steel armor, along with the more complex logistics of casting it into the face of conventional concrete panels, increase project costs. The elimination of the steel, in addition to the fact you need less concrete to produce a much stronger panel, makes the use of UHPC more cost comparable.