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Lawrence Tech professor leads international study on sustainable materials

Release Date: October 8, 2009

Southfield, Mich. - The use of sustainable materials in infrastructure construction will be the topic of an October workshop in Japan led by Lawrence Technological University Professor Nabil Grace.

Grace is the principal investigator of a study entitled "Life Cycle Assessment for Sustainable Materials for Infrastructure" that he has organized with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University and researchers from Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan. He is leading an international team of 15 researchers who will meet for an Oct. 21-22 workshop at the Japanese university.

Funding for the workshop has been approved by the Office of International Science and Engineering at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Grace, who is chair of the Department of Civil Engineering and director of the Center for Innovative Materials Research (CIMR) at Lawrence Tech, has won numerous NSF grants over the past 20 years.

The purpose of the workshop is to develop methods for testing the life cycles of innovative alternative materials such as fiber reinforced polymers (FRPs) that can greatly reduce maintenance and increase longevity for bridges and other infrastructure projects.

For several years, Grace has been a leading proponent of using carbon fiber reinforced polymers (CFRPs) to eliminate the corrosion caused by steel in bridge construction. Preliminary research at CIMR has indicated that bridges built with CFRPs instead of steel can last up to 100 years. These advanced materials currently could add as much as 50 percent to the initial cost of a bridge, but would reduce maintenance and early replacement costs by 200 percent over the increased life span of the bridge.

Grace explained that initial workshop will be held in Japan because of that country's progress in developing sustainable infrastructure. Both the United States and Japan are making rapid technological advances in sustainable materials and both are experiencing rapid growth in infrastructure construction.

According to Grace, transportation officials are recognizing the importance of life cycle assessment (LCA) of materials when making decisions related to new bridge construction, but the assessment process needs to be improved and expanded. LCA has not included a comprehensive set of economic, social and environmental indicators. Grace believes that there is a pressing need for academic LCAs that encompass those factors.

Transportation planners know that FRPs add considerable cost to a project, but they don't have comprehensive research on the resulting savings over the long run.

"Life-cycle assessment will show taxpayers the true benefits derived from investments in bridge infrastructure," Grace said.

Lawrence Technological University, ltu.edu, offers nearly 100 undergraduate, master's and doctoral degree programs in Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management. Founded in 1932, the 4,500-student, private university pioneered evening classes and today has a growing number of weekend and online programs. Lawrence Tech's 102-acre campus is in Southfield, and programs are also offered in Detroit, Lansing, Petoskey and Traverse City. Lawrence Tech also offers programs with partner universities in Canada, Mexico, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.