03.24.21

With Infrastructure Bill on the Horizon, Whitehouse & Collins Introduce IMAGINE Act to Spur Use of Innovative Materials in Rebuilding American Public Works

Research and investments in innovative materials could improve infrastructure longevity and resilience

Washington, DC – As the Senate begins to turn its attention toward a national infrastructure investment plan, U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Susan Collins (R-ME) today reintroduced the Innovative Materials for America’s Growth and Infrastructure Newly Expanded (IMAGINE) Act, to encourage research and deployment of innovative construction materials in transportation and water infrastructure projects nationwide. Investing in new techniques and materials could help extend the life of critical public works that draw increasingly poor ratings for condition and performance.

The bill would fund research into new materials and building techniques, and would spur federal investment in bridge and water infrastructure projects that utilize innovative materials, prioritizing coastal and rural projects. The legislation also creates a task force to examine standards and methods used to assess the federal government’s approval of materials for infrastructure projects.

“American infrastructure is ready for a once-in-a-generation modernization. To get it right, we need to use the most durable, cost-effective composite materials available to rebuild roads, bridges, water systems, and other key infrastructure,” said Senator Whitehouse, who has for years championed Rhode Island’s composites manufacturing industry. “Our bipartisan bill will literally help build back better.”

“Engineers in Maine and across the country are developing exciting new ways to improve our infrastructure by using innovative, resilient, and cost-effective materials and techniques, including those found in the forest products industry,” said Senator Collins. “The University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center is at the forefront of efforts to use 3D printing, cellulose, and other cutting-edge materials and techniques to transform every sector of our economy, from manufacturing to our transportation network. The invaluable work being done by the recently-established Transportation Infrastructure Durability Center, a consortium of universities led by UMaine, would also benefit from the investments included in the bill. The IMAGINE Act will help foster this important research and translate it into practice.”

The IMAGINE Act would encourage the development of materials such as high-performance asphalt mixtures and concrete formulations, geo-synthetic materials, advanced alloys and metals, reinforced polymer composites, aggregate materials, and advanced polymers.

“The American Composites Manufacturers Association applauds the leadership of Senator Whitehouse and Senator Collins,” stated American Composites Manufacturers Association Vice President John Busel. “The IMAGINE Act will advance and integrate innovative technologies and materials such as fiber reinforced polymer composites to sustainably rebuild our infrastructure and revitalize the U.S. economy.”

“Materials innovation is critical to realizing important advancements in the infrastructure that enables growth and opportunity across our nation. The IMAGINE Act will encourage and support research, design and construction to strengthen the country’s infrastructure,” said Christian Cowan, Executive Director of 401 Tech Bridge, an advanced materials and technology commercialization center in Rhode Island. “I applaud this proposal and the important role of the National Institute of Standards and Technologies to bring together academia, government and private industry to accelerate the adoption of new technologies and create new jobs through material commercialization.”

Dr. Habib J. Dagher, Executive Director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine, said, “The IMAGINE Act will be critical to maintaining U.S. technological leadership in the advanced materials space, and the stakes are very high. New construction is expected to be worth $1.5 trillion in the U.S. in 2022, and the construction industry is worth more than 10% of the world GDP. Developing construction materials that are environmentally friendly, lighter, faster to install, and that will last longer will create jobs, save taxpayer dollars, and improve the safety of the traveling public. Can we IMAGINE bridges that can be built in days using materials that last decades with little maintenance? We applaud Senator Collins and her colleagues for challenging America’s best engineers and scientists to IMAGINE.”

One provision of the bill would call on the Transportation Secretary to form innovative material hubs throughout the country to continue to drive research into uses of innovative materials in infrastructure projects. The provision was inspired by the success of regional manufacturing clusters – like advanced composites makers in Rhode Island – that have leveraged their innovations and expertise to grow their industry.

A summary of the bill is available here.