The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) collaborated with the NASA Tournament Lab (NTL) to sponsor the Rust Busters Challenge. Water infrastructure in the United States is critical to the domestic economy, commerce, and resource management. There are thousands of existing hydraulic steel structures (HSS) that require regular maintenance and upkeep. Original methods to protect HSS are disfavored or no longer used due to environmental and safety concerns. Newer approaches to corrosion control suffer from higher costs, shorter service life, and reduced efficacy. In order to address rising maintenance costs and to advance the state of the art for corrosion control, Reclamation, in collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, launched the Rust Busters Challenge. The challenge sought to identify and develop new methods for corrosion control and offered the opportunity for the most compelling approaches to be evaluated and field-tested by leading experts.
In order to address rising maintenance costs and to advance the state of the art for corrosion control for HSS, Reclamation and its partner the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) sponsored a two phase challenge. The goal was to identify and test technologies that could improve service life, reduce costs, or improve performance range (with new features such as health monitoring or self-healing properties). In the first phase, the community submitted their proposals for corrosion control technologies, and a panel of Reclamation and USACE experts selected five teams as Phase 1 winners. These winners each received $50,000 in award money to support development and prototyping work and test coupons. During Phase 2, the teams worked on their technology development and then sent treated test coupons to Reclamation for laboratory and field testing. After a lengthy evaluation period, a first place team was awarded $65,000 and a second place team was awarded $35,000. The second place team also won the Best Lab Performance Award.
This challenge received 35 submissions from 13 countries and awarded a total prize purse of $355,000 to five different winners. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the original timeline for development and prototyping work and for test coupon evaluation by Reclamation and USACE experts had to be extended several times. By the end of the challenge, Reclamation was pleased to have two new approaches to corrosion control that had been both lab and field tested. The experience was so positive, Reclamation has gone on to launch additional ideation and demonstration challenges in other technical areas. Phase 2 participants were interviewed after the challenge, and they shared that they valued receiving Reclamation lab and field test data for their technologies’ performance in addition to receiving prize money.