Engineer Habib Dagher Invents His Way to Maine's New Future
Habib J. Dagher
ENR 1/20/16 p. 22
Immigrant engineering professor has set a high bar for R&D to propel his adopted state to new levels of achievement in clean energy and transportation technology.
Habib Dagher had a lab in his bedroom as a teenager in Lebanon. “I’ve always been interested in inventions, particularly technology that would make a difference in people’s lives,” says the University of Maine engineering professor and director of its Advanced Structures and Composites Center (ASCC).
At age 17, Dagher came to the U.S. to escape civil war, working in R&D while studying to gain four engineering degrees, including a Ph.D. in structural. Under his leadership, the 100,000-sq-ft ASCC has become the largest center for STEM-based research at a state university. Its latest addition is the world’s first offshore wind-wave test basin, which has a rotating, open-jet wind tunnel that mimics ocean storms.
As principal investigator for the New England Aqua Ventus I, a 12-MW offshore wind project, Dagher has spent the past decade of his more than 30 years at UMaine developing the project. He oversaw construction, deployment and testing of the 1:8-scale Volturnus demonstrator, the first offshore wind turbine to connect to the grid in the U.S. and the world’s first to use concrete and composites.
Designed to harness vast offshore wind resources in Maine, the project this year earned him a $40-million award from the U.S. Energy Dept. to continue development. Construction is set to begin in 2017, with deployment in 2018. “Over 60% of the U.S. offshore wind resources can be harnessed using the technology,” Dagher says.
Dagher, who holds 27 patents with six pending, “is an internationally recognized leader in his field addressing the needs of Maine, and his innovation has led to structural technologies that have improved transportation infrastructure, advanced economic development and saved lives,” university President Susan J. Hunter said when, in 2015, the White House recognized him. Dagher was cited as primary inventor of the award-winning lightweight composite bridge system known as “bridge-in-a-backpack.”
Dagher also is pushing the next generation of inventors, sponsoring a wind-turbine design contest at ASCC for 300 public school students. “A bright future comes with a vision … to take ideas forward and make them reality,” says Peter Vigue, chairman of Maine contractor Cianbro Corp. Dagher “has proven … that Maine’s vibrant future begins by believing that we are fully capable of creating it.”