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Bridge reinforcement system tapped for technology award

Lawrence C. Bank

Lawrence C. Bank (28K JPG)

Michael G. Oliva

Michael G. Oliva (15K JPG)

A group of UW-Madison civil engineers has received a Popular Science magazine "Best of What's New" award (engineering category) for a unique polymer grid technology that may lengthen a bridge deck's life without increasing its cost. The technology is highlighted in the magazine's December issue.

Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Lawrence Bank, Associate Professor Michael Oliva, and former graduate students David Jacobson and Mack Conachen developed the super-size reinforcement system for bridge decks. A three-dimensional grid made entirely of fiber-reinforced polymer material, it could replace conventional epoxy-coated reinforcing bars (rebar) inside future bridges.

Installing sections of grid on bridge decks

With the help of cranes, workers can install large sections of grid on bridge decks. Although construction speed is one benefit of the grid system, another plus is that it may give bridge decks a much longer life. (34K JPG)

Fiber-reinforced polymer grid system

The fiber-reinforced polymer grid system could help to speed bridge-deck construction. (44K JPG)

Because it is non-metallic, the fiber-reinforced polymer material won't corrode, giving it the durability to last at least 75 years, while conventional bridge decks need replacing after 30 or 40 years, says Bank. In addition, the system's pre-fabricated, three-dimensional structure means that cranes can rapidly lay sections in place, as opposed to traditional reinforcing bars, which workers have to place and tie together by hand.

The UW-Madison system is among 100 new products or technologies to receive the Popular Science Best of What's New award, which represents a year's worth of work evaluating thousands of products, says Mark Jannot, the magazine's editor. "These awards honor innovations that not only influence the way we live today, but that change the way we think about the future," he says.

Read more about the fiber-reinforced polymer grid system at