Thursday, September 20, 2012

Container Terminal at US East Coast Port Cements Environmental Credentials

Savannah Trials New Construction Technologies
Shipping News Feature

US – With Americans always willing to be at the cutting edge of environmentally friendly technology it is no surprise that one of the East Coast’s leading ports for container traffic and the shipping of general freight has been used as a test bed for a new type of concrete which might be used in the construction and repair of docks, wharves and cargo terminals and which can conserve and encourage the underwater flora and fauna traditionally repelled by normal alkaline cement compounds.

In February this year Shimrit Finkel and Ido Sella, two Israeli scientists from SeArc Ecological Marine Consulting, installed a new type of fish-friendly concrete at the Port of Savannah, and seven months later the scientists are encouraged by the growth of aquatic plants and animals on the thirty panels suspended from the docks at Georgia Ports Authority’s (GPA) Garden City ContainerTerminal each of which featured different chemical formulations and surface textures. The GPA is testing the product as part of its environmental stewardship effort. GPA Executive Director Curtis Foltz explained:

“This building material could transform our dock substructure into an incubator for aquatic life. The study currently being conducted at the GPA is part of our cutting-edge sustainability initiative, finding real-world solutions to ecological issues that can be implemented globally.”

ECOncrete came to the GPA’s attention at the 2011 Savannah Ocean Exchange contest for the $100,000 Gulfstream Navigator Award for innovative ecological ideas. While the product did not win the competition, GPA engineers are considering it for possible use at Georgia’s deepwater ports. ECOncrete could be used to produce pilings for new construction, in the repair of existing pilings, or to sheath current dock infrastructure. Foltz, who sits on the Savannah Ocean Exchange board, was impressed with the early test results.

Ido Sella said that the SeArc’s ECOncrete features a lower pH than regular cement and a honeycombed surface and both factors attract filter feeders, which clean the water and form the foundation for a broader food chain. Finkel and Sella recently returned to Savannah last month for a six-month follow-up.

After being suspended for six months off the dock face at the GPA’s Port of Savannah, the ECOncrete tiles were temporarily hoisted to reveal surfaces alive with plants and tiny animals. Typically, only barnacles thrive on the regular cement used in marine construction. However ECOncrete proved more hospitable to a broader range of aquatic animals, hosting various corals, mussels, oysters and hydrozoans. GPA Environmental Sustainability Manager Natalie Schanze said that these invertebrates are at the centre of a food web and they help to establish an enriched environment and improved fish habitat.

Finkel says it is the textured surface which allows the small life forms latch on and create a habitat and his colleague added that the accretion of shells and calcium carbonate will be experienced and thus colonised by subsequent generations of aquatic life as a natural surface, instead of a man-made structure. Following a thorough examination the pair took small samples for lab analysis and returned the tiles to the water. A full report on results will be delivered to the GPA and other cooperating organizations and the two scientists will return in February 2013 for a one-year check-up.

Photo: Sponges and Sarpolidae growing on ECOncrete a sample of which is inset.