Plastic-Aluminum Composites in Transportation Infrastructure

Nearly all transportation structures in the United States have been built over the past decades on the basis of stiffness, strength, and longevity. To this end, the use of common structural materials, including but not limited to metals (usually structural steel), concrete, and wood, has been standard practice, and the existing transportation infrastructure reflects this practice. However, with changes in manufacturing processes, an increase in available material choices, and a shift in design priorities to minimize environmental impacts, the use of structural composites as main elements in statewide or nationwide transportation networks will likely play an increasing role. In this study, a specific class of structural composite is investigated for use in a wide array of applications in transportation infrastructure. Composite sections comprised of aluminum sections (with high relative modulus and strength) embedded within a plastic matrix provide excellent alternatives to common structural materials with an important distinction: they are completely recyclable with very little effort. This class of building material is not yet well understood but has tremendous potential for use in everything from guard rails and bridge decking up to structural beams and columns. There have been very few structural materials that have been added to the array of choices of the structural designer for transportation structures in the past 50 years, but these new materials have tremendous potential benefits over existing materials. The goal of this project is to determine the feasibility and any limitations associated with using plastic-aluminum structural composites as an alternative for many if not most structural elements in transportation infrastructure. This study will combine numerical modeling of the basic mechanics (including structural performance and thermal behavior) along with basic testing of these elements. Comparisons of performance will be measured against common engineering materials, especially those used in rural areas that of the most interest to the Mountain-Plains Consortium (MPC) institutions. Small scale testing of individual elements will be combined with environmental testing (primarily UV exposure and heat/cold cycling). Expected outcomes include strength, stiffness, and durability data that should provide a necessary foundation for future development of this class of material.


  • English


  • Status: Completed
  • Contract Numbers:


  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Research and Innovative Technology Administration

    University Transportation Centers Program
    1200 New Jersey Avenue
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Project Managers:

    Kline, Robin

  • Performing Organizations:

    Colorado State University, Fort Collins

    Fort Collins, CO  United States  80523
  • Principal Investigators:

    Heyliger, Paul

  • Start Date: 20120101
  • Expected Completion Date: 20161231
  • Actual Completion Date: 20170411
  • Source Data: MPC-379

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01483288
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Mountain-Plains Consortium
  • Contract Numbers: DTRT12-G-UTC08
  • Files: UTC, RiP
  • Created Date: Jun 6 2013 1:03AM