Paving the way to better roads: LSU Profs receive $600K for digital testing of road-top materials


NSF grant will team LSU, Southern, Federal Highway Administration and others on high-tech project

A $600,000 grant to a group of LSU professors will allow them to develop a digital method for examining and testing asphalt concrete, possibly paving the way to safer, less costly roadways in the future.

In addition, the grant, part of the National Science Foundation's Partnership for Innovation program, will allow the LSU researchers to team with Southern University, the Louisiana Transportation Research Center, the National Center for Asphalt Technology at Auburn University, the National Asphalt Pavement Association and the Federal Highway Administration. In addition, two private industry representatives will be involved in the project: Barriere Construction Co. of New Orleans and Fugro Geosciences Inc., an international corporation with offices in Baton Rouge.

LSU College of Engineering Professor Mehmet Tumay, Assistant Professor Linbing Wang and Associate Professor Louay Mohammad received the grant for a project called "Development and Implementation of Digital Specimen and Digital Tester Technique for Infrastructure Materials." Simply put, this "digital specimen and digital tester technique" project will create a computer-based, "virtual" testing and evaluation system for the design of construction materials. The goal is to produce materials that are longer-lasting and more durable in service, which, in turn, will lead to a reduced life-cycle cost.

Essentially, the hope is to enhance current practice in mix design for asphalt materials by reducing the number of specimens tested, reducing the probability of faulty materials being used in the construction industry and improving understanding of the lifetime durability of construction materials.

Ultimately, these new techniques will be implemented at the Federal Highway Administration's Turner-Fairbank Research Center in McLean, Va., as well as other partner facilities. In addition, the process will be used to develop training courses for undergraduate and graduate students in engineering.

Once the methodology has been fully developed using asphalt concrete as the focus material, the process will be commercialized and could be modified for other civil infrastructure materials, such as cement concrete, soil and wood.

Tumay, Wang and Louay hope to establish a sustainable partnership among the institutions and organizations for research and development, education, implementation and commercialization of the digital specimen and digital test techniques.

According to Tumay, former associate dean for research of the College of Engineering and the project director, the reason for choosing "infrastructure materials for paving" as the focus of the project is that they are in abundant use and there is a genuine need to enhance and improve them. According to the National Center for Asphalt Technology, of the 2.3 million miles of paved roads and streets in the nation, 96 percent, or about 2.2 million miles, are surfaced with Hot Mix Asphalt. The Hot Mix Asphalt industry directly employs about 300,000 people, and indirectly accounts for an additional 600,000 jobs. Each year, about 500 million tons of HMA, valued at some $20 billion, are produced and placed for new constructions and rehabilitations. HMA is prone to rutting, fatigue cracking, and other distresses that may increase accident rates. Thus, the HMA industry has a significant impact on the nation's economy and environment, explained Tumay.

Wang stressed that the new digital specimen and testing techniques could have a number of important impacts. The process could enhance current practice in mix design by reducing the number of specimens to be tested, reducing the need for a wide variety of equipment and cutting back the duration of the design period and the need for manpower. In addition, it could enhance the mix design procedure so that a mix would have a balanced capability to resist rutting, fatigue cracking and low temperature cracking. It might also reduce the chance of a problem mix being adopted, while increasing the possibility of designing better mixes that last longer.

"It could lead to better pavements and other materials that last longer to save public and governmental investment," said Wang.

Wang said it will also allow for the "equipping of new generations of engineers with tools that integrate fundamental mechanisms of deformation and strength and advanced sensor and computational technology," as well as "the involvement of minority students in graduate education and research in these areas."

According to Wang, a joint appointment between LSU and Southern University, Southern will benefit by utilizing teaching materials developed during the course of the project.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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