Route 2030: Geotextiles fulfill a sustainable role in construction projects
B.I.G. is on course to achieve a zero environmental footprint by 2030. That is right, zero. To make this journey more tangible, we would like to offer you a passenger’s seat from which you will be able to really get up close and immerse yourself in our various sustainability projects. In this edition: How the use of geo synthetics can make projects more sustainable.
If you need to separate, filter, reinforce, protect, or drain soil in civil engineering applications, geotextiles are the preferred solution. Geotextiles are made of synthetic fibers, such as polypropylene or polyester, and are used in various construction projects, such as roads, airports, or landfills. This solution is often used as a separation layer between different soil types to prevent mixing, as a filter to prevent soil drainage systems from becoming clogged, or as reinforcement to give soil structures extra strength. They can be made in various thicknesses, strengths and permeabilities to meet the specific needs of a particular project.
B.I.G. is a market leader in creating this solution. Besides the fact that it can make other projects more sustainable in the long run, we continue to work within B.I.G. to make the product itself more sustainable as well.
The reconstruction of a driveway of Ostend Airport is a fitting example of the usage of geotextile in building projects. Our solution was chosen over the conventional method where 10 centimeters (about 3.94 in) of gravel would be applied to reinforce the asphalt structure. "We analyzed the reduction of carbon impact at different levels," says Simon De Meyer, Innovation project engineer. "If we set geotextile against the conventional gravel, we saw that the transport for supplying the product was immensely lower. The gravel solution requires 593 trucks; our solution required 3. The most common polymers used in the manufacture of geotextiles are polypropylene and polyester. We use polypropylene, and if you contrast that with polyester, you see that choosing polypropylene over PET resulted in a CO2 savings of 17.920 kg of CO2. Also, the production of a woven geotextile allows achieving excellent performance with a low weight product, saving valuable resources. An efficient and low CO2 intensive solution.”
Green up process factors
Nele Cattoor, Product Compliance and Regulatory Affairs Manager, adds that, in addition, the shift to green energy and recycled materials is also on the agenda: "Making the product technically more sustainable will be difficult, but we are addressing the factors around the production process. Producing on green energy is one of them. The other may be to start using recycled materials." Integrating recycled materials appears to be a stumbling block for the market because the technical standard requested by the market prohibits the inclusion of recycled materials if you want to claim a 100-year shelf life of the product. "Technically it is possible. In agrotextiles it is possible to add up to 40% recycled material, while maintaining the same performances, although in this case the technical requirements are lower. So, considering that geotextiles are required to last for a very long time, using recycled content may be more challenging. But it remains possible, though,” says Simon De Meyer.
Visit of the European Parliament
Following the recommendation of the European Association of Geosynthetic product Manufacturers (EAGM), B.I.G. invited a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) on 20 January 2023, to share with the MEP B.I.G.'s vision and Route2030, and to share more about geotextiles and the sustainability story that may or may not be associated with them. "The European Commission prepares proposals for legislation, and these have to be voted on afterwards in parliament. Suppose the rules around the use or production of geotextiles are tightened, the members of parliament need to know what geotextiles really are and the opportunities and challenges associated with this solution. Therefore, MEP Tom Vandekendelaere needed the knowledge to assess the consequences, uses and benefits of geotextiles," says Nele Cattoor.
End-of-life remains challenging
During the visit, it was also important to expose the pain points. One of those pain points is that geotextiles are exceedingly difficult to recycle. "The end-of-life story of a geotextile is still very difficult. The intention of geotextiles is that they have an immense lifespan; once they must be removed, it is impossible to recycle them. These are steps that the industry still has to take, but it's up to us to take the lead on that!"