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Project Brief

Open Competition 3 - Chemistry and Materials

Microwave Imaging Technology for Condition Assessment of FRP Composites

Develop a portable device that uses microwave imaging technology to assess the condition of reinforced-concrete structures, such as bridge columns, that have been strengthened or repaired with fiber-reinforced polymer composite materials.

Sponsor: Newport Sensors, Inc.

7 Murasaki Street
Irvine, CA 92612
  • Project Performance Period: 10/1/2003 - 9/30/2006
  • Total project (est.): $2,300,126.00
  • Requested ATP funds: $1,991,512.00

Fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composite jacketing has emerged as a high-performance and cost-effective alternative to established construction techniques for strengthening or repairing columns, beams, and other reinforced concrete structural members in critical civil infrastructure including bridges, buildings, port facilities, and pipelines. Since the estimated cost of fixing deteriorating civil infrastructure during the next five years is more than $1.3 trillion (2001 Report Card for America's Infrastructure, American Society of Civil Engineers), infrastructure owners are expressing an urgent need for non-destructively inspecting the concrete structures concealed by the FRP jackets. In the absence of a valid inspection tool, FRP composites will likely remain underused. Newport Sensors Inc. (NSI) will develop a portable device that uses microwave imaging technology to assess the condition of reinforced-concrete structures that have been strengthened or repaired with FRP composite materials. The device will consist of two units. A flexible panel, designed to conform to any curved surface, will have transmitting and receiving antenna arrays on the side facing the structure and a control unit worn like a backpack will contain a power supply, wave generator, signal processor, and data recorder. Key objectives of this three-year project are superior resolution, a high signal-to-noise ratio, real-time measurement, three-dimensional imaging, deep depth of imaging, portability, and simple field operation. Technical risks include overcoming the interference to microwave signals caused by steel rebar reinforcement embedded in the concrete and reconstructing the rebounding microwaves into an image in real time. NSI's internal funding, provided by contributions from company management, is insufficient for developing this technology. The high technical risks and long time to commercialization are unappealing to venture-capital firms and private investors. Without ATP funding, system development will be delayed at least five years. If this technology were applied to FRP-jacketed bridge and highway columns, NSI estimates that the savings from lower inspection costs and extended bridge life ascribed to reinforcement with FRP materials would amount to $80 billion over five years. The utility of NSI's inspection device should greatly accelerate and broaden the use of cost-effective FRP materials, leading to enhanced public safety and economic benefits.

For project information:
Dr. Maria Q. Feng, (949) 378-8666

ATP Project Manager
H. Felix Wu, (301) 975-4685

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