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WVU-led project team wins top honors at national composites conference


Three GFRP wicket gates were installed on the Illinois River to help maintain a navigational pool in the river.

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An innovative solution that extends the life of aging dams that was created, tested and implemented in conjunction with researchers at West Virginia University has received top honors at a national composites conference.

The Composites and Advanced Materials Expo awarded its Combined Strength Award to Composite Advantage LLC, which teamed with WVU and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to produce new glass-fiber reinforced plastic wicket gates to replace standard wicket gates made of white oak.

Wicket gates help maintain a navigational pool in the river by resting on the bottom of the river and being raised when the water gets too low. Traditional structures use a mix of large timber, a product much more difficult to obtain than it was 50 years ago, welded steel I-beams, angles and plates. These materials make the product extremely heavy to lift and susceptible to corrosion.

In 2011, the USACE began partnering with Hota Ganga Rao, who directs WVU’s Constructed Facilities Center and the Center for the Integration of Composites into Infrastructure, to investigate low-maintenance, corrosion-resistant composite structural components for locks and dams that lower life cycle costs.

“We were asked to evaluate the possibility of designing and developing a FRP composite wicket gate because of difficulties in procuring high-grade timber,” GangaRao said. “After conducting several numerical studies and developing design details in cooperation with USACE engineers, the WVU team contacted Composites Advantage LLC for potential manufacturing of a prototype wicket gate system. The WVU team met with production engineers from Composites Advantage and concluded that a resin Infusion process best suited the trial run of a wicket gate with complex geometry.”

After several initial production runs, the final resin-infused product with intricate glass fabric architecture was tested at WVU’s Major Units Lab for structural integrity.

“The tested prototype far exceeded the design requirements and it was field installed for further evaluations,” GangaRao said.

The GFRP gates were installed in 2015 at the Peoria Lock & Dam on the Illinois River at Creve Coeur, Illinois. The installation was the first of its kind in the United States and is estimated to save nearly $19 million over a 50-year lifetime vs. traditional timber replacements.

“As identified by the name of this award – the Combined Strength Award – the production of the FRP composite wicket gate was a joint effort,” GangaRao said. “The WVU-CICI team takes great pride in receiving this highest recognition from CMAX and thanks the organizers for bestowing such high recognition by encouraging cooperative research, development and implementation.”

Other researchers from WVU working on the project include P.V. Vijay and Mark Skidmore.

This is the second award the team has received for its work on this project. In 2016, they were awarded the USACE’s Innovation of the Year Award.

Created by the American Composites Manufacturers Association and the Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering, CAMX is North America's largest and fastest-growing composites and advanced materials exposition and education event. It features more than 550 exhibitors and more than educational program sessions.



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