ECOncrete: inspired by marine life to build sustainable cities
Your Guide To Suatainability: We Learn From Nature
31 october '22
Reading time: 5 minutes
Winner of the 2020 Ray of Hope Prize, ECOncrete creates several coastal infrastructure solutions through its innovative environmental concrete technology. It takes inspiration from marine habitats, thus becoming a pioneer in creating sustainable coastal communities.
Words by Shivani Karnik
Picture by Francesco Ungaro
The challenge of sustainable marine infrastructure amidst the climate crisis
More than half of the world’s population lives around coastal areas, constantly threatened by storms, coastal erosion and rising sea levels. To shield ourselves from these phenomena, we use to build extensive structures around the coastline, often made of concrete, which is used in 70% of all coastal infrastructure, which is a huge unsustainable practice.
Marine organisms undoubtedly prefer their natural and complicated coral structures to live in rather than concrete. For example, aquatic larvae are inhibited from settling on these man-made surfaces due to standard gray concrete’s advanced surface chemistry, thus making it toxic.
There’s an obvious needed change in how we construct marine infrastructure in order to not harm delicate marine ecosystems. Furthermore, as infrastructure market value is expected to grow 10.8% year over year by 2030, innovative solutions are needed in order to bring sustainable practices on the table. ECOncrete is spearheading this change by taking inspiration from marine habitats and organisms.
Picture by ECOncrete
ECOncrete: a call for coastal sustainability
The road to sustainable marine infrastructure began when the co-founders of ECOncrete were diving near an Israeli power plant. Being marine biologists and innovators, the team observed and took note that there was a line separating one segment of the seawall which was barren and another which had more life.
By investigating further into the phenomenon, they found that this was probably due to the segments being cast in different ways. They realized that they could transform concrete into a material which is suitable for marine life to grow on without losing strength and operational capacity. ECOncrete mimics local marine habitats for species to thrive so that they in turn reinforce the structure.
The biological model for the structure emulates reefs, mangrove roots, tide pools and other marine habitats. For example, reefs made from oyster clumps form stalagmite-like structures. These structures not only allow the habitation of other species but also filter water and protect coasts from erosion by dampening the effect of waves. ECOncrete uses these models to create a suite of products that can improve coastal infrastructure.
Picture by Biomimicry Institute
Transforming flat concrete blocks into diverse ecosystems
The founders of ECOncrete realized that instead of featureless concrete units, structures with nooks and crevices that resemble natural ecosystems could promote much better biodiversity. This prompted the innovation of mold-modifying agents, liners, and coatings which created the necessary texture for marine life growth.
ECOncrete also provides molds and mold inserts which create ecological niches while maintaining strength and durability. However, the texture and structure was not the only consideration as the right material was required for optimum results. Using this knowledge, they created Admix, which can be added to concrete to create a chemically balanced mix to enhance marine ecosystems.
These technologies are now being applied to create shoreline protection and waterfront infrastructure in 40 locations across 10 countries including the USA, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. The applications include tide pool armors, armor cables, seawalls, and moorings among other structures on ports and coasts.
Picture by ECOncrete
Merits of ECOncrete products
The primary benefit of ECOncrete is that it’s sustainable as it supports ecological processes by creating surfaces for marine invertebrates to attach. This process leads to the growth and calcification of oysters, corals, tube worms and other calcitic creatures which in turn adds layers of protection to the surfaces.
Not only does this process make the structures more durable, but it also transforms them into carbon sinks and offsets the initial carbon footprint that is created by the use of concrete. Despite the base material being concrete, Ido Sella, co-founder of ECOncrete maintains that this technology can be used on low-carbon concrete solutions also since it was meant to complement existing solutions since the beginning.
According to their website, ECOncrete solutions are estimated to store 19.8 tons of carbon dioxide, filter 27.3 billion liters of water and create $95,200 in ecosystem services every year. Their solutions are also compliant with all regulatory requirements. Being the only environmental concrete technology, ECOncrete reveals to be one of the most promising trailblazing solutions needed to build sustainable cities.