Recently, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave US infrastructure a D+ grade on its annual report card. Last week, members of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection learned from representatives of the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA) that FRP composites could offer a more efficient use of taxpayer dollars compared to conventional materials.

Shane Weyant, President and CEO of Creative Pultrusions; and Dr. Hota GangaRao, Director, Constructed Facilities Center, West Virginia University, explained that government investment in FRP composites could result in a paradigm shift in material usage because composites offer non-corrosiveness, durability, design flexibility and high strength to weight ratio, leading to reduced life cycle costs. Weyant believes the structural capabilities of composites give composites the ability to change the 150-plus year standard for building bridges in America.

“Our energy and communications infrastructure [are] more critical than ever, yet it is reliant upon a 19th century technology – wood poles,” Weyant said.  “Tens of thousands were wiped out in Superstorm Sandy and hundreds of thousands of wood poles and cross arms are nearing or past their functional service life. [So] we have a choice to continue with this outmoded technology or use a 21st Century material.”

In addition to the Superstorm Sandy, Weyant cited the current water crisis in Flint, Mich., as an example of America’s need to rethink its approach to water systems.

“Composite technologies have the capacity to revolutionize water systems around the country,” Weyant said. “Composites can provide pipe and structures that are easier to install, stronger and more durable than other materials, and are inert and don’t leach chemicals into drinking water.”

During the Q&A session of the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Bob Latta (R-Ohio) said the speed of production and installation of composites, which Weyant also noted in his testimony, caught his attention. Weyant had cited a project in Wheeling, W.V., where Creative Pultrusions helped install the city’s Market Street Bridge in a little less than 14 hours. Weyant estimated that completion of the bridge, which is 200 feet long and approximately 68 feet wide, may have taken 30-40 days with concrete.

“Fourteen hours is quite an accomplishment,” said Rep. Latta.

Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) later asked Weyant about the challenges the composites industry faced from other materials.

“The big adjustment is trying to develop standardizations that don’t exist for advanced composites. [With], a lot of traditional materials, there’s handbooks that exist,” said Weyant. “[We need] help to develop those standards. A lot of these companies are very small with restricted budgets, but if the government and universities and industry could develop standards to penetrate [markets], so any engineer out of school could pull out a standard and develop around these products, that would be a great return.”