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Up Front
by Jay Allbritton
If the ideas below gain traction, they may transform trans- and create a company,
portation theory, energy generation, and aviation safety. Advanced Infrastructure
Technologies. The pros-
pect of an economic boost
has also attracted a bevy
A wildlife biologist in Seattle is creating a device to save
of political heavyweights
human and avian lives. According to the Federal Aviation Ad-
including Maine Senators
ministration, bird strike is the second leading cause of aviation
Olympia Snow and Susan
deaths and results in excess of $300 million in damages in the
Collins, as well the governor.
United States each year. We saw near disastrous results last
A Wood Composites Center
January, as pilot Chesley Sullenberger crash landed US Airways
spokesperson says their idea
Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, after both of the plane’s en-
has “the potential to change University of Maine, Orono
gines were disabled by a collision with a flock of geese. Across
everything in terms of bridge
the country at Sea-Tac Airport, south of Seattle, Washington,
biologist Steve Osmek and his team of 20 employees are
developing an experimental radar system designed to pre-
vent the dangerous, and expensive problem. Sea-Tac spends
For decades researchers have tried, unsuccessfully, to
an estimated $250,000 annually to keep birds away from the
transform the bountiful amounts of coffee waste into a market-
airport using an array of anti-avian weapons, including lasers
able, alternative fuel source. A trio of University of Nevada,
with scopes and a range of explosive shells that release smoke,
Reno scientists, who caution that they are in the early stage
squeal like fireworks, or boom like thunder. But Osmek’s
of research, think that they may be able to unveil the elusive
new system, which integrates a series of small radar units
technology in as little as two years. The key to the process is
arrayed around the airport, is adapted to focus on tracking
decreasing the cost of unraveling the coffee grounds’ carbon
and identifying birds not scaring them. And it is arguably an
dioxide, which requires a great deal of energy. An impetus
improvement on outdated methods used at other airports.
for the Nevadans is that new environmental laws may compel
The system can track birds flying at 3,000 feet and within six
many industries to curtail their emissions with a less-polluting
miles of the airport. With experience the radar operator can
fuel source. Coffee grounds contain up to 20 percent oil, which
also determine from the bird’s patterns what species it is. A
is comparable to the amount produced by established biodie-
distinction that makes a difference if the approaching bird is a
sel sources such as palm oil and soybean oil. The process of ex-
wide-winged Canadian Goose and not a sparrow. Since Flight
tracting oil from leftover coffee products is not expensive and
1549’s crash-landing, airports nationwide have inquired about
once the coffee is processed, the remaining solid waste can be
Osmek’s system, and three have plans to test the avian radar in
used as compost. The researchers estimate that producing bio-
the near future.
fuel may cost about $1 per gallon. Americans drink seven mil-
lion tons of coffee annually, which the researchers think might
produce 340 million gallons of biodiesel. Plus, processing cof-
Is a college town in Maine home to an engineering
fee grounds could be an economic boon, providing millions to
breakthrough that will revolutionize the way bridges are
coffee chains and even more to coffee-producing nations like
built? Researchers at the University of Maine, Orono, who
Colombia, the Ivory Coast, Brazil, and the beverage’s ancestral
have developed a “bridge in a backpack” hope so. Their
home, Ethiopia.
technique is to inflate collapsible tubes and bend them into
arches. The tubes are filled with resin and concrete, which, the
researchers say, creates arches that are harder than steel. If it
works, the structures can be built faster, at a lower cost, with
greater durability, and look like other bridges. News of the
technology intrigued some observers, (including University of
Maine graduates) enough to invest $20 million for R&D in the
university’s Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center USBE & Information Technology I DEANS Edition 2009 7
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