ACADEMIC WORLD

A new high-tech bridge equipped with composite materials

It replaced a damaged decades-old concrete crossing. Researchers and engineering students in the University of Tennessee are part of the project

On the surface, it looks like any of the thousands of small, narrow two-lane bridges found all across America.

But a new high-tech bridge in north central Tennessee is equipped with a fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composite material bridge deck embedded with fiber optic sensors. It replaced a damaged decades-old concrete crossing which, like thousands of low-volume rural bridges across the state and nation, was rated structurally deficient and outdated.

Researchers and engineering students in the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Fibers and Composites Manufacturing Facility are part of the bridge partnership. They embedded smart fiber optic sensors developed by Luna Innovations into the bridge surface during production.

These high-density sensors are being used to monitor the composite deck system over time to give critical performance and safety data, providing a sustainable solution for aging infrastructure such as bridges. In addition, wireless technology developed at UT monitors traffic counts and the response of the bridge system remotely via cloud computing.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, about 8 percent of the more than 617,000 bridges in the US are structurally deficient and need repair. FRP composites offer a low-cost, low-maintenance option, and the new structure in rural Tennessee is intended to demonstrate the benefits of composite materials for rural bridgework.

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