Dr. Nabil GraceMichigan Economic Development Corporation

Nabil Grace Wins $899,996 State Grant to Create Longer-lasting Bridges

Nabil Grace and his research team has been awarded a three-year $899,996 grant from Michigan’s 21st Century Jobs Fund to develop, implement and commercialize new materials and engineering practices that are expected to double the lifespan of highway bridges using box-beam construction.

Lawrence Tech is the only private university among the 61 companies and universities selected to share $100 million in the first round of funding under the state program designed to create jobs in emerging technologies. Its grant was one of 11 awarded by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) in the category of Advanced Automotive, Manufacturing, and Materials.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science screened more than 500 applications and forwarded 179 to the Michigan Strategic Economic Investment and Commercialization Board (SEIC) for a rigorous independent peer review process.

“This grant demonstrates the vital role that Lawrence Tech plays in applied research projects leading to commercialization and job creation,” Lawrence Tech President Lewis N. Walker said. “It is reflective of our commitment to be a catalyst for economic development in Michigan.”

Participation by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Hollowcore Inc. of Detroit will make this grant a collaborative effort between academia, government and the private sector.

Nabil Grace, chair of the university’s Department of Civil Engineering, is the principal investigator for the grant. He said the goal is to develop a box-beam bridge that will require very little maintenance because of its design and corrosion-free materials. Using a carbon fiber reinforced polymer instead of steel to reinforce the concrete should double the lifespan of replacement bridges and save taxpayer money, according to Grace.

“Bridge surface cracking and deterioration is costly to repair. The same problems are likely to reoccur over time if repairs are made by employing the same methods, materials and designs of the original construction,” Grace said.

The project combines experimental and theoretical research to produce applied technology that will be used in the replacement of three bridges identified by MDOT. About 20 percent of bridges in Michigan have been built with box beams.

The three-year grant will create seven to ten jobs at Lawrence Tech, and the bridge construction work is expected to create around 40 jobs.

According to Grace, the bridge replacement demonstration project should encourage more rapid replacement of faulty or obsolete bridges because of the anticipated savings on maintenance. There also should be more business generated for Michigan companies as other states adopt the new materials and techniques.

The state grant is funding work at Lawrence Tech’s Center for Innovative Materials Research (CIMR). Lawrence Tech developed CIMR with the help of a five-year $11 million cooperative agreement involving both the Army Research Laboratory and the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), which included construction of the $3.2 million research facility on the university’s 125-acre campus on Ten Mile Road in Southfield.

Earlier this year Lawrence Tech received a $1.175 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to study bridge materials and a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to research, develop and test carbon fiber composites and other advanced materials for defense applications.

Nabil Grace and his research team also has been awarded a separate $160,000 MDOT grant to work on some specific issues with box-beam bridges.