Published 3 years ago.
About a 6 minute read.
Image: ECOncrete's Tide Pool Armor installation in Herzliya, Israel | ECOncrete
With impending, growing climate change impacts — in conjunction with the expected growth of our cities, ports and other coastal infrastructure — investing in
“Blue Tech” is of prime importance.
Concrete is the most consumed material on our planet, second only to water; and
consumption has dramatically increased over the last few decades with the
proliferation of the human population. Today, the concrete industry is
responsible for 8 percent of all global carbon emissions. This is fueling some
of the same problems concrete aims to solve: More emissions lead to intensified
climate change; and drive the need to build more concrete defenses along
shorelines that are undergoing climate change threats, including rising sea
levels and increases in extreme storms.
About 70 percent of all coastal and marine structures — such as breakwaters,
piers, dykes, and seawalls — are concrete-based. Concrete is a harsh material,
foreign to the marine environment; and as such, it promotes low biodiversity and
is typically dominated by invasive and nuisance species.
But humans did not invent coastal defenses. Way before we started building
massive man-made barriers to protect coastal communities, nature had its own
product line. From coral
that form massive barrier reefs, to oyster reefs that can modify hydrodynamic
and sediment pathways, to marsh beds or mangrove forests that can withstand
severe storm events and even soften tsunamis, nature has been defending its
coastlines for millennia.
Unfortunately, as humanity expanded its footprint along coastlines and
waterways; instead of looking for inspiration from these amazing natural
barriers, we chose to fight nature with concrete defenses. Trying to keep the
water away from our cities comes at the cost of destroying natural, highly
diverse, coastal ecosystems; and eradicating the same ecosystems that once
protected our coastlines.
We can’t keep protecting ourselves while destroying nature and its precious
This is what inspired Dr. Ido Sella and myself to develop
ECOncrete® , a patented biomimetic concrete
that enhances the biological and ecological value of coastal and marine
infrastructure — such as ports, marinas and working waterfronts — while
increasing the structural performance of the projects. ECOncrete embodies
biomimicry’s design intention: to learn from and mimic forms and processes found
in nature to create regenerative solutions.
The technology looks at three different levels to mimic natural coastal and
marine ecosystems in our products: material composition, surface texture and 3D
design. My co-founder, Dr. Sella, said that in order to create robust,
load-bearing concrete elements that the construction industry can endorse and
seamlessly apply to mega infrastructure projects, we had to find a delicate
balance between the structural engineering needs and the needs of the local
ecosystem. Developing bio-enhancing concrete compositions that are strong enough
and durable for many decades was probably the most challenging part for us. We
had to explore different materials that can be added to the concrete in order to
neutralize its negative impacts on marine life.
But material is only one part of the innovation. In order to develop concrete
structures that are teeming with life, we sought to develop surfaces that better
mimic natural forms such as coral polyps, oyster shells and biogenic rock
formations. It was obvious for us that a smooth surface just wouldn’t cut it.
Marine larvae need roughness to adhere to the substrate; and to undergo
successful metamorphosis into an adult coral, oyster or tube worm.
This delicate process calls for suitable surface chemistry, hydrodynamics and
design features. Think about a tiny coral planula trying to settle on a smooth
seawall that experiences very rapid flow across the element. Chances for
attachment are slim, unless we generate complex surfaces like natural ones that
create micro-turbulence and facilitate the probability of the plantulae to
settle. Imagine it this way: tiny marine organisms are being shuttled around by
currents looking for a place to settle, but when a current meets a flat surface
it shoots quickly and forcefully around it. Complex surfaces with rough textures
and little holes slow down currents of water, creating swirling flows that push
larvae and planulae against the structure’s surface, giving them lots of
opportunities to attach and begin growing.
The third pillar of ECOncrete’s innovation is science-based 3D designs. This is
where we take biomimicry to the extreme. Low structural diversity equals low
biological diversity; and this is where we come in and design biological niches,
shelter and even nursing grounds as an integral part of massive structural
concrete elements such as seawall panels and armoring blocks. We study the needs
of the local ecosystem and local species, and even drill down to life history
traits of key species and integrate their habitat needs into our designs. We add
holes, crevices and water-retaining features, all while carefully maneuvering
away from structural components such as rebar to maintain structural integrity.
Ray C. Anderson, founder & Chairman of
Interface, is probably the
most direct link between biomimicry and industry. In 1994, he began a green
industrial revolution by declaring Mission
— a goal to transform his business to have zero negative impact on the planet by
2020. This was a bold step for a billion-dollar carpet tile manufacturer that
had never thought about the environment, in an era in which others were just
beginning to talk about sustainability.
Twenty-five years later, his life-changing epiphany was achieved — leading to
transformed supply chains, product lines and new business models, and creating a
powerful ripple effect across industries and geographies. An integral part of
this transformation was weaving biomimicry into the fabric of Interface by
looking to nature for inspiration and out-of-the box solutions. This
transformation occurred in 2000 with Entropy® — the world’s first biomimetic
In the spirit of Anderson’s mantra of ‘doing well by doing good,’ and after
having won the Biomimicry’s 2018 Global Design
for our Tide Pool
product, ECOncrete was recently chosen as the winners of the Ray of Hope Prize®
competition. The expert panel of judges recognized how we implement biomimicry
thoughtfully to change the way coastal and marine construction industries
The beauty is that through biomimicry, the life that adheres to our products not
only rejuvenates the local ecosystem, it also increases the structural
performance of the structure and offers a natural carbon sink. This is thanks to
the growth of ecosystem engineers, and calcifying organisms such as oysters,
corals, tube worms and coralline algae that secrete calcium carbonate skeletons
and encase the concrete in a process called bioprotection. In addition, during
the calcification process, these organisms are uptaking CO2 from the water and
transforming it into calcium carbonate, thus reducing some of the massive carbon
footprint of concrete structures and extending the lifetime of the structure
(now able to reach 50 or even 120 years). This is a unique combination of
biomimicry and bioutilization, working with nature, for nature, and for humans
With impending growing climate change impacts — in conjunction with the expected
growth of our cities, ports and other coastal infrastructure — investing in
“Blue Tech” is of prime importance. The Ray of Hope
Prize will give our company a boost in
“doing well by doing good.” Ray of Hope enables us to have an amazing platform
for spreading innovative coastlines and educating the governments, policy
makers, engineers and landscape architects that are developing and designing our
future waterfronts. Working with these partners, we can popularize the paramount
significance of biomimicry and environmentally sensitive technologies as
integral solutions for a sustainable future.
Published Aug 28, 2020 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST