Last Wednesday, during a heari­­ng before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Research and Technology of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, members of the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA) testified that as the United States looks for innovative solutions to repair its infrastructure, Congress should support efforts to develop codes and standards that allow designers and engineers to build confidently with composite materials.

Shane Weyant, president and CEO at Creative Pultrusions, Inc., urged members of the subcommittee to support the availability of 21st century infrastructure technologies. The message built on during his 2017 testimony before the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection, during which he explained that composites offer durable, sustainable, and cost-effective solutions in infrastructure applications. In the months following Weyant’s 2017 testimony, North America experienced one of the worst hurricane seasons in recent memory, which further emphasized the urgent need to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure with innovative technology.

“Hurricanes Irma and Maria brought down all but eight utility poles in the [Virgin Islands] – all eight of which were composites,” said Weyant. “Where all other materials failed, composites were left standing.”

Weyant noted, however, that while composites offer many benefits over traditional materials, a lack of awareness and standards for composites have been major barriers to their increased adoption. Last year, ACMA worked with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to facilitate a workshop among manufacturers, academia and end users to lay the groundwork for a “roadmapping” document that proposes how to overcome those barriers. If carried out, the proposals outlined in the document could lead to the adoption of composites that are more reliable, durable and cost-effective than current infrastructure material options.

“NIST has a unique ability to aggregate existing standards and design data for composites and validate them broader dissemination and use,” said Weyant.

One of those proposals in the roadmapping, according to Joannie Chin, deputy director of the engineering laboratory at NIST, is to find a way to develop reliable data and design guidance in order to provide appropriate safety margins for composites.

“NIST has the expertise to address these needs,” said Chin, who explained that NIST has been studying composites since the 1980s. “For example, to study durability, we have developed sensors that visualize the molecular nature of damage in composites. We also have a unique device that accelerates the effects of weathering on materials and large-scale testing facilities that evaluate the effects of strong loads on advanced composite structures.”