29 Nov 2017
Tel Aviv, Israel
Sustainable Construction

Nearly two-thirds of the global population lives in coastal zones. The development of these regions is inevitable, and often – when conventional methods and materials are used – destructive to the natural ecosystems. But ECOncrete, with a suite of innovative, science-based solutions, is proving that development and sustainability don’t have to be at odds.

Picture a port, pier, footpath, or any other manmade structure you’ve seen near the water. Most likely, some portion is concrete. Seventy percent of coastal infrastructure is concrete-based. But traditional concrete comes at a high cost – both environmentally and financially.

The physical and chemical composition of standard concrete creates a hostile environment for many native species. Invasive and nuisance species are able to flourish in these unnatural conditions. As a result, biodiversity decreases while deterioration – and therefore maintenance expenses – increase.

“Such environmental stress can create a ‘marine desert,’” Dr. Shimrit Perkol-Finkel, CEO and Chief Scientist of ECOncrete, explains. She and her consulting firm partner set out to create a solution.

Personal inspiration:

Shimrit’s mission to mitigate this problem wasn’t strictly business; it was quite personal.

“I grew up in Tel Aviv,” she says. “I lived five minutes from the beach. I spent a lot of time by the water.” Shimrit pauses, then laughingly adds: “I would even dodge school to go to the beach.”

The Mediterranean Sea was Shimrit’s backyard, playground, and classroom. Her love of marine life inspired her to study marine ecology even before she entered university. “I did my final project for high school on the breakwaters of Tel Aviv,” she recalls. Shimrit continued her underwater exploration, diving in about 20 countries around the world for both education and recreation.  

While earning her PhD at Tel-Aviv University, the problem, a partner, and possible solutions became clear.

“I was working in a lot of ports and marinas,” Shimrit explains. “Over time, I saw the changes and devastation – from beautiful, diverse, natural reefs to dysfunctional, degraded, urban seascapes. I really wanted to change that.”

Biologist Dr. Ido Sella was a PhD assistant at Tel-Aviv University at the time. He and Shimrit recognized their overlapping interests. In 2010, the two collaborated to launch SeArc, an ecological marine consulting fit. They began working together to provide global clients with guidance on designing and retrofitting coastal infrastructures that have the ability to minimize negative impacts on the environment while increasing ecological value.

A solid and innovative solution:

Combining their experience, Ido and Shimrit conducted a research and development process to find a solution to the problem of devastation caused by coastal development. Their research revealed the chief culprit.

“We identified concrete as one of the materials most commonly used yet least effective,” Shimrit explains. Not only was the concrete composition harmful to the environment, the design – or, rather, the lack of design – was also problematic. That prompted Shimrit and Ido to focus on improving the materials, design, and texture of concrete-based coastal structures.  

In 2012, with the help of seed funding, they established ECOncrete – a comprehensive solution that goes well beyond concrete composition.

“We offer a full-on constructive solution,” Shimrit says. ECOncrete provides a number of services from site analysis to concept design, and product supply through project monitoring.

Their proprietary science-based concrete mixture, textures, and designs enhance the biological performance of the coastal structures and increase the lifespan, effectively decreasing costs over the long term and reducing the negative impact on the marine environment. In addition, the unique admixture and design can actually stimulate biodiversity. Marine life like coral and oysters naturally form calcitic skeletons on the concrete, contributing to the strength of the structures in a process called “bio-protection.”

The proof is in the projects:

From Israel to Brooklyn and beyond, ECOncrete is transforming barren sea structures into vibrant habitats.  

“In 2013, we installed ECOncrete Tide Pools at Pier 4 and Ecological Pile Encapsulations at Pier 6 of Brooklyn Bridge Park,” Shimrit shares. “The Tide Pools hold water at low tide, mimicking natural rock pools. They provide beach stabilization and encourage the growth of marine life.”

The jackets on the pier piles were previously made of fiberglass left in place forms. They had no environmental value and were taking up extra water volume. Now, with ECOncrete technologies, natural habitats are being restored. “We’re actively bringing life to these structures,” Shimrit says.

At home in Israel, ECOncrete installed eco-friendly armoring units at Haifa military port. Armoring units are used to provide defense against sea waves and are traditionally constructed from concrete that is damaging to local ecology. But ECOncrete’s science-based concrete and design creates protection for fish larvae and encourages growth of local invertebrate – proving again that development and local eco-systems can co-exist when science is prioritized and applied.

Meanwhile in Florida, ECOncrete’s Bio-Enhanced Marine Mattresses have already been challenged by natural disasters. The Mattresses – intended to provide strength to the battered shoreline and encourage growth of the local marine habitat – were placed in Port Everglades just months before Hurricane Irma hit. While Irma destroyed much of the local coastline and concrete structures, Shimrit says, “ECOncrete’s Mattresses survived the storm and show only minor scarring.”

As the global population continues to grow and our coastlines continue to suffer, ECOncrete’s innovative approach offers concrete solutions to some of our biggest coastal concerns.

“The current approach of the industry doesn’t work,” Shimrit warns. “We must consider the environment, utilize the best technology available, and build on science-based construction if we want to create resilient and eco-friendly coastlines. ECOncrete will be a leader in this.”

In fact, they already are. ECOncrete is the only company providing this full suite of bio-enhancing products that are effectively building and monitoring the success of sustainable “living breakwaters.”

“ECOncrete projects are assessed by independent experts,” Dr. Sylvain Pioch, a researcher at the Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive and Associate Professor of Land Plan Management and Environmental Studies at Paul-Valéry University Montpellier, says – supplying additional evidence of ECOncrete’s commitment to continuously improve and evaluate their science-based solutions. And they’re not stopping at these larger scale government and city projects. The private sector is next. “There is a lot of real estate on the water,” Shimrit says. “Private homes, high-end designers, and resorts. We want to help them protect their pristine habitats, too.”

“The basic assumption of any marine development is that the natural habitat will be lost at the site of construction, and biodiversity will drop,” Dr Nadav Shashar, Professor of Life Sciences at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, says. “But ECOncrete presents a win-win option: Construction can continue, and the natural marine biota can flourish.”




Web: https://www.econcretetech.com/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/4983873/

Photos: Courtesy of ECOncrete.

In addition to being a storyteller for The Switchers, Sunny is a Lonely Planet Local, a freelance writer, and the Founder of FROLIQ.Sunny Fitzgerald
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