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An aging infrastructure in the U.S. means that bridges and roadways need to be built or replaced at an accelerating rate

AIT has “de-engineered” bridges and produced a simpler, lighter, low-impact structure that takes advantage of natural elements

The bridge incorporates an arch - inherently strong and efficient - and a design that eliminates the need for sealants

With a life expectancy of 100 years, the bridge will use fewer resources initially and across its lifespan

AIT’s bridge is a lightweight system that melds a traditional structural arch design with modern materials to create a complete bridge system that extends lifespan and reduces life cycle costs compared to existing alternatives. The company aims to improve infrastructure while minimizing resource use and impacts to the natural environment.


Innovation Summary

An aging infrastructure in the U.S. and growth in the developing world means that bridges and roadways need to be built or replaced at accelerating rate. AIT has “de-engineered” bridges and produced a lighter, sustainable, long-life, and low-maintenance structure. The bridge incorporates an arch shape, an inherently efficient structure taking advantage of natural elements, to produce a joint-free structure without the use of steel reinforcement. Additionally, the arches are rapidly deployable and do not require the heavy equipment or large crews needed to handle the weight of other construction materials. With a life expectancy of 100 years and limited maintenance, the bridge will outperform standard bridges designed to last 50-75 years. This new method of building bridges will reduce the negative effects of corrosion and consume fewer resources across its lifespan.

The bridge is the first composite concrete bridge of its kind to gain approval by AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials). It represents the first innovation in concrete bridge designs in decades. The arch bridge is appropriate for bridges that span 75 feet or less, or approximately 75 percent of bridges in U.S. The technology has applications in culvert replacement, tunnel projects, as well as water management. The system has been widely tested with advanced structural characterization, predictive modeling, and fatigue testing, along with environmental durability tests for UV, fire, and abrasion resistance. There are 12 AIT arch bridges in service. While still in the early stages of rolling out the product, the system has received numerous awards, including the 2011 Award for Innovation from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).


While a lot has been done to develop and facilitate the construction of more sustainable buildings (e.g., LEED, Living Building Challenge), relatively little has been done for bridges – “horizontal buildings,” if you will. AIT is trying to change decades-old, resource-intensive habits in the particularly risk-averse field of engineering, while providing much-needed solutions to meet growing infrastructure needs with sustainable designs.

AIT has developed a more sustainable bridge design with a longer life that not only uses fewer materials in construction, but also does not require an on-going application of coatings and sealants, meaning it could make an entire product obsolete, saving all of the resources associated with it. This design also keeps structural elements out of waterways, so streambeds and aquatic life are left undisturbed. Overall, the company is focused on promoting simple, sustainable infrastructure solutions that can be easily adopted in many parts of the world.


The corrosion-free concrete arch bridge design began with a request to engineers at the University of Maine from the Natick Army Research Lab. The Army was interested in a lightweight structure that could be implemented easily in the field without the normal, lengthy engineering and design process, and could be left in place over time with little maintenance, providing a sustainable solution. The first bridge was constructed for the Maine Department of Transportation and was dubbed “bridge-in-a-backpack” because of the easily transportable input materials used by the system.



Securing investment at the water-energy nexus

What is it like to be a renewable energy start-up in New York City, 2013? We visited the headquarters of Rentricity Inc. at the WeWork coworking space in SoHo last week to find out.

In the hip-yet-sophisticated collection of offices, conference rooms, and common areas on the 6th floor of a converted warehouse, glass-walled units buzzed with industrious entrepreneurs along a hallway that opened onto a central kitchen/socializing area stocked with ample amenities: fresh-brewed coffee, pineapple-infused water and yes, a keg in continuous operation. In a bright conference room by the elevator, we sat with members of the Rentricity team: President Frank Zammataro, Research Associate April Lecato, and their intern, Anna, beneath a modern-art montage urging us to “Do/What/You/Love.” 

Certainly an apt exhortation for Rentricity’s President and co-founder. A former Wall Street-er with no background in electrical or mechanical engineering, Frank is truly a self-made and self-taught technologist. Displaced in the aftermath of 9/11, he started to fixate on the water towers perched atop the Manhattan buildings visible from his new downtown office. Can we tap into the potential energy of all this water just sitting on the city’s roofs and use it to power emergency evacuation devices? “It won’t work” was the verdict from a cadre of engineering professors at RPI to whom he presented his first drawings: a wheel in a pipe that harnessed energy from water flowing down through these systems. Undaunted, he dove deeper into water systems and in the summer of 2002 surfaced with a technology to collect renewable energy from water flowing in pipes and vaults.  Seven years and numerous state and business grants later, he moved into business full-time.  

Fast forward to 2013: business is moving swiftly—the company has four times as many projects in the pipeline this year over last, and is building a solid portfolio of case studies, relationships and partnerships. But revenue and reputation alone are not enough to fund the ambitious growth Mr. Zammataro has in his crosshairs. He wants to hire—the best-of-the-best—to expand operations beyond their current NYC digs, to increase capacity on all fronts. But scaling requires funding and renewable energy took a significant hit in 2012. The well-publicized failure of several cleantech projects and uncertainty in the sector has left many venture capitalists gun shy.  

So how does a start-up like Rentricity convince investors to get on board? How do they drum up interest and excitement about innovations that deal with the totally un-sexy business of systems infrastructure? Does Rentricity need an evangelist to take on the cause of infrastructure reform and innovation, someone to speak up for smart, efficient infrastructure that harnesses existing power within the system? 

Maybe, but Rentricity appears to be in a better position than many innovators who have been lumped into the cleantech category. The company is at what’s been called the energy-water nexus. Businesses and economies rely very much on these two closely linked critical resources. While Rentricity’s technology involves generating clean energy, it also has the potential to enable smarter water management and water conservation. Importantly, it also takes advantage of existing infrastructure. And it’s not trying to compete in a crowded field of attractive products, like cars or gee-whiz solar collectors. In light of comments from panelists at a recent cleantech investment event, Rentricity appears to be in an enviable position.

Look for a profile of Rentricity’s technology from dMASS soon.




Resource Fix: Combining projects for even better performance

The City of New York recently changed from single-space metered parking to a multi-space meter system. While this maximized space for on street car parking, it also meant the removal of the old meters, and consequently a reduction in the available places for cyclists to secure their bikes. Now the City is embarking on a project that combines multiple objectives in one effort: they are retrofitting old parking meters for use as bikes racks.

By rolling these independent efforts into one project, New York City is increasing space and efficiency for drivers and cyclists, while simultaneously enhancing the performance of the City’s own resources. Do you know of other examples where seemingly disparate projects have been blended to meet multiple resource performance goals?