Roadways and bridges are aging at a faster rate than they can be repaired. The U.S. power grid is more than 130 years old and vulnerable to natural disasters and terror attacks. And the safety and security of our nation’s oil, gas, water and wastewater pipeline systems is an increasing concern. Modernizing infrastructure will require interdisciplinary research teams, 21st-century technologies and innovative solutions to meet the demands of a growing population and expanding economy.
This fall, officials at The Texas A&M University System broke ground for the new Center for Infrastructure Renewal (CIR). The Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) and the private sector are collaborating on the center, housed at the new 2,000-acre RELLIS Campus.
“We are creating an economic and education magnet that will offer the best of our state agencies and universities in one location,” said John Sharp, chancellor of the A&M System, at the groundbreaking. “RELLIS is a new approach necessary to educate the next generation of Texans and expand the state economy through research and innovation.”
Authorized by the Texas Legislature, the center is a prime example of that innovation. CIR will focus on research and testing related to robotics, driverless and connected vehicles, advanced manufacturing, and smart power grids and water systems, among other initiatives. The 138,000-square-foot facility will help reduce the cost and extend the life of infrastructure with newer, better materials and improved construction methods. Its director, Dr. Bjorn Birgisson, brings with him from Europe an approach that looks at the systemic impact of research innovation.
“In Northern Europe, you’re taught to think of things from a systems perspective,” Birgisson explains. “For example, how does an efficient construction supply chain help in cost-effectively repairing this particular road? In the United States, it’s often more about the methodology itself involved in repairing the road, and the best way to do that.”
Birgisson hopes to combine both — a European appreciation for the bigger picture with the focused know-how of the U.S. approach to maintenance — as he shapes CIR’s strategic direction. His philosophy is an inclusive one that seeks a holistic, multidisciplinary method to solve problems of infrastructure management and development.
“Texas is at a critical juncture: an aging infrastructure system is costing billions of taxpayer dollars in construction projects using outdated technology,” said M. Katherine Banks, vice chancellor and dean of Texas A&M Engineering, during the ceremony. “This facility will bring together the best engineers to address these challenges in ways that are more efficient, effective and economical.”