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What lies beneath the ground poses a costly problem in the nation’s infrastructure, according to one of southern Arizona’s top structural engineers.

“The reality is that the buried pipe infrastructure, the pipelines, they are an order of magnitude about 10 times more cost-associated with repair and strengthening of these pipelines,” said Dr. Mo Ehsani said.

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Ehsani, who heads the Tucson, AZ-based business QuakeWrap Inc., has a solution.

His creation known as StiffPipe, uses technology that could transform the pipeline industry.

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“It’s very durable, it’s very lightweight, and it’s very strong,” said Ehsani, who is also professor emeritus of civil engineering at the University of Arizona.

StiffPipe can end up used for water, sewer and oil and gas applications. While most of the world’s pipelines consist of steel and concrete, Ehsani’s invention is made of completely different materials with no risk of corrosion.

“Basically, we use carbon on the inside and on the outside to keep it lower cost, we use glass fibers. Then the core of the pipe is made out of a very strong, but hollow material,” Ehsani said.

The hollow part of the pipe resembles honeycomb — a kind of technology that may have some questions about the pipeline’s durability.

A QuakeWrap demo shows a pickup truck driving over the pipe without damaging it.

“Even without burying it in soil, you can drive a truck over this. So it is very strong,” Ehsani said.

Ehsani also said careful testing showed no traces of chemical leaching from the materials used, and they can end up developed into all kinds of diameters.

Because of the new type of pipe, Ehsani won an American Society of Civil Engineers award for inventing the world’s first “green” pipe.

“Up until now nobody had thought of making a pipe with a hollow wall and that was a big shift in the thinking,” Ehsani said.

StiffPipe is not yet seeing action in southern Arizona, but Ehsani said he hopes it can be end up used for manhole repairs in Tucson.

“There are millions of gallons of water that are lost every day because of leaking pipes,” Ehsani said.

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