The problem being solved: Potholes and other types of asphalt damage on military and commercial airport runways can harm aircraft, leading to costly repairs and handicapping airport operations. The pre-existing industry standard methods for repairing this type of asphalt damage, cold mix asphalt (CMA) and hot mix asphalt (HMA), both have significant limitations. CMA patches cannot withstand heavy aircraft loads, so those repairs only provide a temporary fix until an HMA repair can be made. But HMA materials can be difficult to obtain and often cannot be purchased in the relatively small quantities needed for runway patching.
The technology solution: Induction Hot Mix Asphalt (iHMA), developed by researchers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center (USACE ERDC) and the Air Force Civil Engineering Center, offers an easy, one-step process with the convenience of CMA and the toughness of HMA, saving time and cost. What sets iHMA apart is the use of induction— electromagnetic activation of metallic particles in the asphalt mix—to heat the asphalt, giving it the workability needed for durable repairs. The product is packaged in five-gallon containers, which are heated on demand at the repair site. Once the asphalt material is placed in an induction chamber, the iHMA system heats the mix above 300°F in less than five minutes—90% faster than traditional heating methods.
The tech transfer mechanisms: A cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) allowed necoTECH to approach potential commercial partners while the technology was still in development. A non-exclusive license ensured that the technology had every opportunity to become a viable rapid asphalt repair solution for the Air Force and other branches of the military. It also left the door open for other companies to license the technology for different applications.
The tech transfer excellence: This effort benefited from the strength of the CRADA as a collaborative mechanism to complement the non-exclusive license with necoTECH. In particular, the CRADA’s five-year term—requested by the inventor—facilitated improvements to the technology without interrupting the research annually for agreement renewals.
The outcomes: necoTECH will be commercializing the technology as Hot Patch on Demand (HOTPOD). At the time of this award submission, HOTPOD was scheduled to be implemented by the Air Force and other military branches—a $26.5-million market—by the end of 2022. The company also anticipates a 2023 commercial rollout of HOTPOD for civilian use in the $4.8-billion paving contractors’ sector. The technology will save billions of dollars on pothole repairs and keep airfields operational for the benefit of consumers and national security.
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