The UMaine Composites Center was founded in 1996 with support from the National Science Foundation through EPSCOR. The grant titled, “Composite Reinforced Wood Hybrids for Civil Infrastructure Systems,” authored primarily by Dr. Habib Dagher and Dr. Stephen Shaler, including Dr. Barry Goodell, Dr. Eric Landis and Jake Ward supported the creation of the Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center (AEWC), including construction of a 30,000 sq. ft. facility, major equipment purchases, and new faculty hires.
The grant proposal received top marks from all nine NSF reviewers, which ultimately resulted in the $3.3 million award. Dagher, Shaler, and then University of Maine System Chancellor Terry MacTaggart turned to Eastern Maine Development Corporation (EMDC) and Mr. Sandy Blitz who was running the federal Economic Development Administration program at EMDC. Blitz and the UMaine team wrote a successful $2.2 million proposal to the EDA.
The UMaine team approached Governor Angus King to successfully raise $250,000 for an EDA-required local match. With NSF, EDA funds, and state match in hand, the first part of the laboratory moved forward and officially opened in 1999. Equipment, however, was purchased in following years with grants through federal and state agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the US Navy, the Maine Department of Transportation, and others.
What began as a center dedicated to product development and next-generation wood and FRP composites research quickly expanded its capabilities into complementary research areas: defense and aerospace, civil infrastructure, ocean energy, and nanocomposites. This diversification of research also brought a new group of prospective funding agencies, faculty, and students from a variety of academic backgrounds.
The Center experienced rapid growth over the last two decades as a result of this widening research, reaching an average of 50 faculty and staff members and an average of $5-8 million in research funding being brought to the University of Maine every year. This period included several expansions of laboratory and office space.
2011 Expansion, Offshore Wind Laboratory
In 2011, the center officially opened its Offshore Wind Laboratory, adding structural testing of blades, towers, and foundation components up to 230 feet in length to its list of capabilities. This expansion was the first building on campus to receive LEED Gold certification.
2012 Name Change, AEWC to Advanced Structures and Composites Center
Given the continuous growth and widening range of research, it became clear that AEWC no longer encompassed the full extent of research and development activities at the Center. In 2012, at the request of the Center’s director and faculty, the University of Maine Board of Trustees approved a name change, formally recognizing the Advanced Structures and Composites Center.
2015 Expansion, Alfond W2 Ocean Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing Labs
In 2015, the Center received its largest philanthropic gift to date from the Harold Alfond Foundation to name the $13.8 million Alfond W2 Ocean Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing Labs. The Foundation provided $3.9 million to match $9.98 raised from the National Science Foundation, Economic Development Administration, a State of Maine bond, and other sources. The expansion of the Alfond labs brought the total size of the UMaine Composites Center to 100,000 square feet.