Closer to home, Ehsani cites the recently awarded $10.7 million contract to build the first four miles of pipe for the billion dollar Navajo-Gallup water supply project, which involves building a 280-mile pipeline to supply water to more than 40 Navajo communities in New Mexico and Arizona.
"The contractor is making a 42-inch diameter pipe for four miles, which works out to $507 a foot," Ehsani said. "Really, we could have that pipe built faster with the help of local labor and put it in place sooner, without having to wait to order it and ship it, and all of that expense."
Ehsani said he didn't really set out to turn pipeline construction on its head, but the project took on a life of its own. "We developed this originally with the intention of fixing existing pipes," he said. "Then as we started getting into this thing I realized it could be a real game-changing breakthrough technology."
The breakthrough did not happen overnight. In the late 1980s, Ehsani and Hamid Saadatmanesh, both of the UA department of civil engineering and engineering mechanics, pioneered research into repairing and retrofitting bridges and buildings using fiber-reinforced polymers, so the technology is well established.
"There's a lot of history on these materials," Ehsani said, which has enabled him to refine the pipe manufacturing process to use smaller amounts of better quality materials. "Because we're using our materials in a smart manner, we can afford to use the higher end material," Ehsani said. "So instead of cheaper glass fabric, we use carbon. Instead of polyester resin, we use epoxy. Because we don't have a solid core, we can afford to put the expensive material on the skin."
If Ehsani's concept for mobile pipe manufacture using lightweight components takes off, he envisions an industry freed from the shackles of heavy industrial plant. "As a business model, a company that
|Contact: Pete Brown|
University of Arizona College of Engineering