Brisbane and Townsville –
Queensland-based company Fibercon has been named among the country’s greats in the area of innovation for its recycled plastic fibre concrete reinforcing product Emesh.
The company, which has offices both in Brisbane and Townsville has taken out the Manufacturing, Construction and Infrastructure category at the prestigious The Australian, Shell and Department of Industry, Australian Innovation Challenge Awards, held in Canberra in December 2015.
As well as the prestige of winning the prize, Fibercon has also been awarded $5,000 from a total pool of $65,000 in prize money spread nationwide.
The win was a team effort involving Fibercon CEO Mark Combe, Fibercon’s Technical Developer Mr Shi Yin, Fibercon R&D Manager Tony Collister and Dr Rabin Tuladhar Senior Lecturer and Associate Dean (Engineering), James Cook University.
According to Mark, concrete represents the second most used material by humankind, second just to water.
“With an annual use of 24 billion tonnes of concrete globally, it’s vital that we improve sustainability performance,” Mark said.
“At the same time, global plastic production every year is more than 300 million tonnes, out of which only 5% is currently being recycled, leading to burgeoning plastic pollution.
“Recycling a part of this plastic waste into fibres provides an opportunity to reduce global plastic pollution.
“Furthermore, use of this recycled plastic fibre in concrete contributes towards sustainable development by reducing the consumption of steel in concrete.”
Mark said the product ticked a number of boxes to win favour with the judges, including: Project Introduction and Novelty, Potential Impact, Environmental Sustainability and End User Benefit and Adoption and Take-up.
“We’re a green product that has been successfully commercialised,” Mark said.
“Our product has been embraced by Mining Companies, Local Councils, Government Departments, Construction Groups, Architects, Educational Institutions and Developers.
“Since our R&D Manager Tony Collister first presented us with the concept just over three years ago, we have put Emesh through an exhaustive scientific testing process with assistance from James Cook University.
“We’re bridging the gap between idea and reality, which is much easier said than done.
“The construction industry is not nearly as innovative as it could be, despite the fact its future depends upon it.
“It’s great to see an award like this encouraging and rewarding innovation and we’re very proud to be part of it.”
Key Facts and Figures
ABOUT EMESH FIBRES Emesh Fibres by Fibercon are added to concrete to form an innovative, eco-friendly and easy-to-use concrete reinforcing mesh that is both durable and ductile. They’re made from 100% recycled polypropylene fibres, which are 47mm in length and bundled into “pucks”. Our fibres completely replace the need to use non-recycled virgin plastic fibres and frequently eliminate the need for old school steel reinforcing. The result? Emesh Fibres save time, money and are better for the environment. THE DREAM TEAM Mark Combe, CEO, Fibercon. Mark contributed in producing the recycled fibre in commercial scale. Mark also sponsored stipend for Shi Yin during his PhD study. Tony Collister, Fibercon. The concept of using recycled fibres was originally Tony’s brainchild. Tony shared his expertise of concrete industry for successful use of recycled fibre in concrete. Shi YIN, Fibercon and PhD graduate from James Cook University, Townsville. This research was conducted as a part of Shi’s PhD work. Dr Rabin Tuladhar, Senior Lecturer, Associate Dean College of Science Technology and Engineering, James Cook University. Rabin supervised and led this research project.
SPOTLIGHT ON THE INNOVATOR A CAREER CARVED IN CONCRETE It would be a challenge to find a person more knowledgeable and passionate about concrete than Townsville-based Tony Collister who is the man who first conceived the concept of Emesh.
As a young man, Tony Collister worked with traditional Italian concreters in Melbourne. Technically proficient with an almost artisan pride in their work, Tony says the exacting standards of these men were uncompromising and provided an education he has never forgotten. While there was no official apprenticeship in concreting, Tony feels his training was akin to one. Certainly the Italians have a proud tradition with concrete. The word comes from the Latin word “concretus” meaning compact or condensed and the world’s most famous concrete structures include the Colosseum and the Roman Pantheon.
As Fibercon’s Research and Development Manager, Tony brings a wealth of knowledge developed over 35 years starting with those early years in Melbourne as a “tradie”. Tony has worked as a concrete producer, a steel fibre specialist and is currently the Chair of the Concrete Institute of Australia’s North Queensland Regional Committee. He works comfortably between the academic researchers at James Cook University (JCU) innovating concrete’s environmental sustainability and clients that span engineers, concrete producers, designers and onsite specialists.
Tony first joined Fibercon in 1999 and remains its Northern Australia Manager as well as heading up R&D. Fibercon’s sponsorship of research at JCU has seen Tony involved in the scientific future of concrete for 13 years. He has personally mentored engineering students since 2002 and been involved with a number of thesis projects covering different aspects of concrete. Most recently, Tony has worked with Shi Yin during his PhD research into using 100% recycled plastic fibres instead of virgin plastic fibres to create a superior concrete that is far friendlier to the environment. The result is Fibercon’s Emesh product.
“Concrete is the most used building material on the planet – the sheer amount of it being used requires us to continually find better ways to create a superior product that is also better for the environment,” Tony said. He’s excited that Emesh’s technical and environmental credentials have exceeded expectations and passed the exacting standards required to be the subject of articles in prestigious international publications, The Journal of Cleaner Production and Building Materials Journal.
“The use of plastic fibres in concrete has been around for a long time as its benefits for technical performance are well established but this new product is the first time 100% plastic fibres have ever been used,” Tony said.
“The technical performance of Emesh is first rate. The PhD research put Emesh through a large number of chemical tests to ensure its abilities in acid and alkaline environments and its durability and strength. Testing shows it does not degrade and delivers a strong post cracking performance. We are really championing this product and will do so over the years to come, to promote the hands-on examples of its use and really spread the word about its benefits to those wanting to deliver a superior job.”
Emesh is suited to driveways, pavements, cycle-ways, loading docks, traffic island infills, ground slabs and a range of precast applications. “At Fibercon we have never had to replace a cubic metre of concrete and pride ourselves on the end result exceeding expectations that make our customers look good to their customers,” he said. “The best thing about Emesh is it offers so many extra benefits without any extra cost. Architects are particularly excited that our product is either cost neutral or offers costs benefits compared to steel, which makes their job of including more environmentally friendly solutions in their projects much easier. “In most cases, green products are more expensive than their conventional counterparts but that’s not the case with Emesh. There is no cost penalty.”
Emesh is fully prepared at the concrete plant where the plastic fibres are added to the concrete mix and fully dispersed so it arrives at the site ready to go. There is no need for a second truck to be used to deliver steel mesh to the site or for the fiddly work of cutting, chairing and tying mesh and no off cuts to dispose of later. The Emesh concrete is quick and easy to pour and simple to place and finish whatever the shape or curves of the job with no waste.
“It actually reduces costs as you don’t need to go to the trouble, expense and waiting time of booking an engineer’s inspection to make sure the reinforcement is properly in place,” he said. “However, a major benefit is it stops plastic going into landfill and is playing a role in reducing the carbon footprint of construction. “I would love to see Emesh become readily available for domestic use for driveways, slabs for carports and garden sheds and so on. It’s such an easy product to work with and performs so well.”