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Michigan Awards Seed Money for Mobility Innovation Projects

Three companies were awarded a total of $260,000 from the Michigan Mobility Funding Platform to advance technology in the areas of bridge construction, electric vehicles and drone-operated deliveries.

Michigan Capitol building.
Lawmakers in the Michigan Capitol building have been debating a host of bills since Election Day.
(AP/Carlos Osorio)
Just in time for one of the largest investments in public infrastructure the nation has seen in decades, a company in Michigan has developed road and bridge technology using advanced steel fibers, significantly extending the life of these surfaces.

Known as “ultra-high performance concrete,” the material has strength and durability that are up to seven times greater than regular concrete,” said Sherif El-Tawil, CEO of HiPer Fiber.

HiPer Fiber has been awarded $115,000 by the Michigan Mobility Funding Platform to test and deploy technologies to advance transportation. In the latest round of funding, three companies — Evenergi, Workhorse Group Inc. and HiPer Fiber — were awarded a total of $260,000 from MFP, a project of the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification, Michigan Economic Development Corp. and the Michigan Department of Transportation. The mobility funding project has dispersed more than $3.1 million since May 2020 to companies advancing mobility technology.

HiPer Fiber will deploy its advanced steel fiber technology in a bridge to be constructed in St. Clair County. The durability of product means the bridge decks should be set to last for about 150 years with minimal maintenance, said El-Tawil.

“Although more expensive than regular concrete, the extreme strength means that bridge members will be ultra slim and ultra light, allowing for large savings in transportation and construction costs,” he added.

Evenergi, awarded $30,000, will partner with Dean Transportation to deploy its BetterFleet software to create a digital twin of Dean Transportation’s fleet of some 250 school buses. The findings will aid in understanding some of the challenges associated with transitioning the fleet to electric vehicles. The aim is to better understand the many dynamics surrounding vehicle electrification and its opportunities as the state’s school bus fleet becomes more electrified.

Workhorse Group, awarded $115,000, will partner with organizations like Airspace Link to deploy electric drones for last-mile deliveries.

Providing the seed money to grow these industries and technologies is at the heart of the state’s grant funding, say officials.

“My north-star goal is to make my grant dollar go as far as possible,” said Trevor Pawl, Michigan’s chief mobility officer, speaking on a panel last month on logistics technology. For every tax dollar invested, Pawl wants to see a $1,000 industry match.

And the time is now to be developing and planning tomorrow’s bridges, the vehicles traveling on them and new approaches to delivering goods, he added.

“A lot of big decisions are going to impact the next 50 years of our roads, with our infrastructure made in the next 10 years,” said Pawl.

The bridge in St. Clair County could stand as the new benchmark for bridge and highway construction, said El-Tawil.

“This project is designed to encourage local and state agencies to consider using ultra-high performance concrete to build the next generation of transportation infrastructure,” he added. “Frequently, agencies will not consider new technology unless they see that it has been successfully implemented elsewhere. We hope that this project will be the catalyst that will spark much broader usage of this technology in the state of Michigan and beyond.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.