The first and only ecological offshore wind scour protection

Offshore wind turbines have massive bases. Protecting them from scour, while protecting our seabed ecosystems from development is a major unaddressed challenge. ECOncrete and LafargeHolcim in the U.S. have partnered to tackle it, enabling a scour protection technology which can support a sustainable transition to offshore wind power.

LIVING PORTS shortlisted for ESPO award

The 2021 ESPO Award celebrates port managing bodies which are best playing a role in recovering from the COVID-19 crisis, whilst contributing to the recovery and prosperity of the local community. LIVING PORTS is making waves with technology set to build stronger, environmentally-friendly infrastructure.

ECOncrete & LafargeHolcim in the U.S. partner to develop new tech for offshore wind

ECOncrete Tech Ltd. and LafargeHolcim in the US, the country’s largest cement manufacturer, have joined forces to design and produce an ecologically beneficial concrete scour protection unit for offshore wind turbine foundations.

The Biden Administration set the goal of creating 30 GW of offshore wind by 2030 while protecting biodiversity and promoting ocean co-use, an effort which, to achieve sustainably, should use best available technologies to ensure the health of our marine environment and species. The scour protection developed by this partnership would be the first, and currently, only structural solution to address the ecological impacts of offshore wind turbines on the marine environment, enabling a more sustainable industry and healthier oceans.

Offshore wind turbines require massive concrete foundations to anchor them in place. Hydrodynamic forces can create large holes around foundations, necessitating scour protections. Scour protections are units designed to protect sediments from being swept away by currents, and are often installed in a mound to protect the turbines’ foundations. This kind of concrete infrastructure has a large impact on sensitive benthic, or seabed, ecosystems.

The goal will be to design and manufacture a fully-structural concrete scour protection unit that facilitates the growth of marine organisms, while meeting all industry standards for stabilizing the seabed. The R&D collaboration includes a large-scale pilot project to evaluate the ecological performance of the innovative units in an offshore environment before implementation in full-scale installations.

“Offshore energy production is a rapidly growing market worldwide, and while there are certainly benefits of using renewable energy, there is also an impact of these giant structures on the sensitive underwater ecosystems,” said Dr. Ido Sella, CEO and Co-Founder at ECOncrete Tech. “We view our collaboration with LafargeHolcim in the US as key to minimizing this impact.”

“For LafargeHolcim in the US, we recognize that there are many paths to achieving our net zero commitment, and most require innovative partnerships and out-of-the-box thinking,” said Josep Maset, VP, Commercial Excellence at LafargeHolcim in the US. “The work we’re doing with ECOncrete Tech is a notable example of searching for solutions that enable increased use of renewable energy in an environmentally responsible way.”

This three-year joint R&D project began in May 2021 and is funded by a grant from the Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Energy programme.

ECOncrete® Tech is a concrete technology provider that brings, biodiversity, carbon storage, and superior structural performance to any marine infrastructure. Solutions using ECOncrete’s technology are quickly encrusted in rich marine life, like oysters and corals. This living layer not only makes concrete more durable, but also transforms ECOncrete’s industry-standard concrete into a self-mitigating, carbon storing structure. A healthy ecosystem grows on ECOncrete thanks to a patented technology package: admix alters concrete’s chemical composition; texture agents create complex surfaces; and moulds or mould liners enable nature-inclusive structural designs. These technologies have been seamlessly integrated in 40+ projects across 8 countries and 6 seas, cost-effectively and with a unique return on investment. With ECOncrete infrastructure, waterfront assets like ports, shoreline communities at risk of erosion and flooding, and diverse offshore construction applications can be built responsibly.

About Holcim

Holcim builds progress for people and the planet. As a global leader in innovative and sustainable building solutions, Holcim is enabling greener cities, smarter infrastructure and improving living standards around the world. With sustainability at the core of its strategy Holcim is becoming a net zero company, with its people and communities at the heart of its success. The company is driving the circular economy as a world leader in recycling to build more with less. Holcim is the company behind some of the world’s most trusted brands in the building sector including ACC, Aggregate Industries, Ambuja Cement, Disensa, Firestone Building Products, Geocycle, Holcim and Lafarge. Holcim is 70,000 people around the world who are passionate about building progress for people and the planet through four business segments: Cement, Ready-Mix Concrete, Aggregates and Solutions & Products. More information is available on www.Holcim.com.

LafargeHolcim in the US, a subsidiary of Holcim, includes close to 350 sites in 43 states and employs 7,000 people. Our customers rely on us to help them design and build better communities with innovative solutions that deliver structural integrity and eco-efficiency.

COASTALOCK: single-layer-armor designed for project and planet

Interlocking Armor Needs an Upgrade

Interlocking armor is used along many of our coasts and waterfronts as a versatile solution for building breakwaters, coastal erosion control, and land reclamation.  For example, the Afsluitdijk, a 32km long dam and roadway built across the North Sea, uses interlocking solutions for stabilization and as shock absorbers.

Proprietary interlocking armor like Accropode or Xblock are commonly used for infrastructures like the Afsluitdijk because they’re affordable, effective, and easy to install.

However, when it comes to the environmental impacts of these technologies, like damages to marine life and high carbon footprints, traditional armoring technologies are problematic. Because of lacking ecological consideration during construction, traditional concrete comes with large costs, both economic and environmental.

When coastal armor can work with nature, there is a high return on investment. A $75 million project to construct 8 breakwaters along New York’s shores faced a shocking $18 million environmental mitigation penalty cost for the infrastructure’s projected damages to the site’s environment. However, when ecological design changes and ECOncrete® technologies were implemented in these breakwaters’ design, the project’s mitigation penalties dropped to only $4 million. 

A Solution for Industry-Standard Coastal Armor 

Traditional interlocking coastal armors have smooth, flat-plane designs and harsh chemical compositions, making it difficult for marine ecosystems to thrive on and around these infrastructures. When the armor is placed in intertidal zones to protect from wave action or control erosion, the structures don’t mimic the form and function of natural coastal systems, like retaining water at low tide and supporting diverse ecology. To bridge the design gaps for interlocking armor, the infrastructure must be reengineered.

The Port of San Diego was searching for a structural solution that would not only protect port assets, but also help adapt to climate change, delivering co-benefits for the local economy, community, and environment. ECOncrete worked with the Port of San Diego to design armor that brings structural support and native habitat to rock riprap.

 

The COASTALOCK Trifecta

COASTALOCK is an interlocking single-layer concrete armor unit designed to perform for project and planet.  

 

“COASTALOCK is the trifecta we love: carbon sequestration, smaller footprint, while at the same time, providing resilience.”

Jason H. Giffen, Vice President of Planning, Environment, and Government Relations, Port of San Diego

 

Traditional concrete armor’s smooth surface is detrimental to the health of marine ecosystems: it provides no indents or grooves for organisms to grab onto, resulting in a bare, lifeless surface. To solve this issue, COASTALOCK has micro and macro features that allow marine organisms to grab on and thrive.

By mimicking the world’s greatest engineer, nature, COASTALOCK encourages bio-protection: biodiverse marine life which grow on the structure and create a protective layer, shielding the concrete from physical and chemical degradation. Through bioprotection, the magnitude and frequency of structural maintenance is reduced, which results in improved ecological stability as well as a greater return on investment.

 

“Environmental benefits and social benefits also produce tremendous value. Whenever we can generate more value by spending fewer resources and creating multiple public benefits, that’s smart, that’s good business, that’s positive leverage and that’s what we should be doing.”

Rafael Castellanos, Board of Commissioners, Port of San Diego

 

A tidepool, integrated directly into COASTALOCK armor, retains water at low tide. When the unit is rotated, the tidepool can also become an overhand or cave, providing shelter and breeding habitat for species that need different conditions. The ability to interlock at any orientation not only accommodates sensitive marine species, but also allows for versatile and flexible infrastructure arrangements. 

Most interlocking armor solutions can incorporate ECOncrete’s admix and texture technology, and most standard rock ripraps, revetments, and breakwater concrete single-layer armors can be fully-replaced by COASTALOCK to create natural and efficient shoreline systems. At the Port of San Diego, ECOncrete’s technology replaced sections of the rock riprap with armor well-suited for the Port’s future: effective, efficient, and climate-adapted. 

With sustainable planning, incorporating marine-friendly infrastructure can help ports build for the future.

Armoring ourselves against the next big storm

Coastal cities such as New York and Miami are at  risk of flooding, high tides, and storm surges. Climate change causes water to expand and melts glacial ice caps, accelerating the rise of sea levels. As seas rise, some of the world’s major coastal cities, which are home to half of the human population, might find themselves underwater in less than a century. By 2100, the most recent IPCC report predicts oceans will rise 0.44-0.76 m (1.4-2.5 ft) under the intermediate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions scenario, and 0.63-1.01 m (2.1-3.3 ft) under the very high GHG emissions scenario. Due to variable conditions and elevations, the water level in any particular place may rise by much more. In New York City, as much as 6 feet of sea level rise is expected by 2100. 

 

The search for sustainable solutions

Most cities and their governments are taking action to protect their coastlines from this imminent threat. In Bangkok and Tokyo, there are new regulations regarding groundwater extraction that reduce the rate of subsidence and restore groundwater levels (an important source of fresh water for many regions). Solutions also include updating infrastructure, creating new zoning regulations, and coastal defense systems to protect from rising sea levels and superstorms. In New York City, annual storm seasons make urban flooding a critical infrastructure problem. 

 

Learning from the past

Altogether, the past decade’s storms totaled $800 billion  in damages, an average of ($80.2 billion per year).

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina affected hundreds of thousands of people, especially those from already vulnerable communities with few resources and flood-prone homes, forcing many to leave metro areas and increasing socio-economic disparities. Despite the $14.5 billion invested in levee improvements after the historic storm, Hurricane Ida, a comparatively strong storm, still left New Orleans and the populations outside the levees flooded in water.

Recent mega-hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have all raised the same question: What should we do to help reduce massive cleanup and rebuilding efforts for dozens of towns and cities that have already developed infrastructure and neighborhoods on land vulnerable to floods?

Many communities have come to the conclusion that a passive approach to natural disasters does not work. In Ocean Breeze, a Staten Island community, instead of rebuilding on vulnerable flood plains, some residents have chosen to leave old neighborhoods behind to allow nature to return, an approach known as “managed retreat”. However, in most places, people still prefer to live near the coasts and accept unmitigated flooding risk.

 

Preparing for the future

In 2012, Superstorm Sandy struck New York, bringing record-breaking wind gusts and deadly flooding. In New York City, over 69,000 residential units were destroyed, thousands were displaced, and  44 citizens perished. After Superstorm Sandy, the federal government launched Rebuild By Design (RBD), a competition for expert groups offering strategies and solutions to prepare for the next big storm. This competition selected 7 projects to protect the coastlines of NYC and New Jersey, as well as a model to help prepare communities for future challenges.

Rebuild by Design’s goal was simple yet audacious: as the risk of flooding increases due to intensified storms and sea-level rise, can communities join together to shift its course and build a more resilient society before a big disaster hits, while also addressing other challenges along the way? One of the competition’s winners was a project designed to protect Staten Island from future storms, called the Living Breakwaters Project.

 

Harnessing nature’s engineering tricks

Living Breakwaters is a “necklace” of 9 breakwaters, aimed to promote coastal resilience for Staten Island by reducing the height of waves hitting the shore and extending the width of the beach. These breakwaters are “living” infrastructures as they help revive local marine ecosystems. The combination of ecologically designed breakwaters and bio-enhancing materials reestablishes habitat complexity and mimics the wave-weakening functionality of the natural oyster reefs that had previously dominated the area.

As keystone species, oyster reefs bolster the local aquatic community by providing food, refuge, and protect shorelines by reducing erosion; they are ecosystem engineers that turn into wave buffers over time while providing a home for a variety of marine organisms. Not only do the living buffers restore aquatic communities, they also protect communities from storms while local fisheries benefit from cleaner waters. 

The project’s integration of ECOncrete’s concrete armor into the breakwaters stabilizes the infrastructure while creating habitat for local species. The green breakwater armor differs from traditional concrete armor due to its ability to support important local species, such as ecosystem engineering oysters. Not only does the ECOncrete infrastructure encourage marine life to thrive, the added weight, surface complexity, and natural ability to change with ocean conditions increases stability and durability of the structure.

Nature-based infrastructure solutions

There are many ways to armor our cities against intensifying storms and warming seas. A consensus is forming among coastal policymakers, planners, and developers: resilience-building projects are responsible not only for the protection of our waterfronts, but also for ecosystem preservation. Solutions such as living shorelines (“soft edges” such as marsh plantings, dunes, and mangrove restorations) are gaining popularity. Where “hardened coasts” or concrete infrastructures are needed, hybrid solutions are becoming integral tools for projects aiming to set a new standard for coastal construction.

ECOncrete arrives at IGY Málaga Marina

IGY’s state-of-the-art superyacht marina is getting a new set of vertical breakwaters, built out of ECOncrete’s technology. Why is the Málaga Marina using ECOncrete’s solution? In short: better biodiversity, more carbon storage, and longer service life.

Case Study: Environmental concrete for urban green walls

This case study is for landscape architects, engineers, and asset owners, who would like to understand how ECOncrete’s technologies are integrated into projects and deliver a unique return on investment. This installation was a pilot project to validate the structural and ecological effectiveness of ECOncrete’s bio-active wall technology. Since this project, ECOncrete has installed bio-active wall tiles in multiple towers, malls, and public buildings.

 

Problem & Solution

Green roofs and green walls are in high demand in dense urban areas because they offer carbon storage benefits, reduce urban heat, and create beautiful public spaces. 

ECOncrete’s Bio-Active wall tiles outperform typical green roof and green wall systems due to their patented, low-maintenance design. The wall is supported by drip irrigation from air conditioning drainage. The system is tailored to keep water accumulated on the concrete surface in appropriate conditions for plant development. The tiles contain an admixture that supports the growth of mosses, lichens, and climbing vegetation.

 

Project Details

The Lev Levontin tower is a high-end, mixed-use commercial/residential building in Tel Aviv’s Levontin neighborhood. 1,100 ft² (100 m²) of ECOncrete’s bio-active wall tiles and planter units were incorporated by landscape architecture firm Urbanof Studio to provide the building with a beautiful, sustainable green wall. The installation covers the south-facing wall of the building’s luxurious patio. Pocket-like planter tiles integrate seamlessly with wall tiles into a cohesive facade perfect for vertical planting. As many pocket tiles as desired can be integrated into the design to increase plant cover, or to double as lighting fixtures in architectural design.

 

Plants that depend on light, moisture, and nutrients, but require little or no soil are ideal candidates for the bio wall. In this project, certain mosses and lichens naturally began growing on the structure and the following species were planted: climbing fig (Ficus pumila), common ivy (Hedera helix), Australian violet (Viola hederacea), Bacopa (Sutera bacopa), and five-leaved ivy (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). 

 

“One of the things the wall stands out for is the scenic transformation it produces from year to year and season to season. Another advantage is the fact that there is no situation in which the wall is ‘naked’ as can happen in a regular green wall. The lichens and mosses on the wall give the wall a very special appearance. On the one hand a contemporary look but on the other a ‘permanent’ look of ‘rootedness.’ Around the wall there is always a feeling of coolness. During the summer days it is pleasant to stand by the green wall which gives a feeling of clean and cool air. The wall is easy to implement and even easier to maintain, with no extra financial investment or special know how.”

– Zisi Pinchas, Planning Coordinator, Waxman Gurvin Geva Engineering Co. Ltd.

Project Monitoring

About a month after planting, the wall started developing noticeable plant coverage around the planter units. Three months after planting, mosses started colonizing the wall, covering anywhere from a few centimeters in area to over half of a tile. When compared to the control wall, the surface temperatures on ECOncrete’s wall when it was dry were lower by an average of 7.6⁰C  (13.7⁰F) than the control wall. When the bio-active wall was wet, its temperature was up to 13.2℃ (23.8⁰F) lower than the control wall. Due to ECOncrete’s specialized admix and the wall’s ability to enhance CO₂-assimilating processes, such as photosynthesis, the carbon footprint of ECOncrete’s wall is up to 80% lower than that of the Portland-cement-based concrete wall. 

UN Sustainable Development Goals outline future of construction

Why UN Sustainable Development Goals?

In an effort to reduce the impact of human development on the environment, the United Nations Development Program has set a 2030 target to achieve 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs.

As our global population increases, so does the pressure on our environment and natural resources. Construction and buildings currently account for 40% of global CO2 emissions. New construction, especially in sensitive marine areas, is quickly reducing natural habitats.  Yet, sustainable solutions are only a tiny portion of the construction industry. In the buildings sector for example, “for every  $1 spent on energy efficiency  $37 are spent on conventional construction approaches.” While green construction practices take root on land, with solutions like green roofs, walls, and facades, sustainable construction solutions are often missing from our urban waterfronts. 

By implementing technologies with multiple co-benefits, we can reduce the carbon footprint of ports, marinas and other coastal development projects, while making them more resilient and adaptive to climate change.

 

Eco-engineering a sustainable future

Concrete currently makes up 70% of marine infrastructure. Most of that concrete is made of Portland cement, a “grey” material that does not support “green” marine life. Simple solutions can transform the concrete used in maritime construction, enabling ports, offshore energy suppliers, and urban waterfront to meet the ambitious SDGs.

By aligning with these goals, companies can create sustainable infrastructure solutions and maximize benefits in a world with growing challenges and shrinking resources. According to Ernst and Young (EY) “All companies stand to gain from more resilient communities, reliable access to natural resources, and an educated and healthy population to support their workforce. By helping drive progress toward these outcomes and creating shared value, companies can help to secure their ability to generate capital and shareholder value over the long-term.”

 

Meeting the challenge

ECOncrete provides ecological concrete technologies for coastal and marine construction that help marine life flourish on and around concrete infrastructure. By installing a technical solution that restores marine life  (SDG 14; Life Below Water), organizations that use ECOncrete reduce the ecological footprint of concrete and revive coastal biodiversity (SDG 11; Sustainable Cities). More biology growing on concrete also improves the strength and durability of concrete infrastructure (SDG 9; Innovation). 

Produced from over 92% recycled industrial byproducts (SDG 12; Responsible Consumption and Production) ECOncrete’s bio-enhancing admix has a manufacturing carbon footprint that’s up to 70% lower  than conventional Portland Cement-based concrete products (SDG 13; Climate Action). The admix also supports biocalcification (the accumulation of calcium-carbonate based animals, like oysters) and photosynthesis on the concrete, enabling concrete infrastructure to become an active carbon sink. 

When applied in the construction of coastal defense projects such as breakwaters or seawalls  aimed primarily at climate adaptation, ECOncrete boosts the performance of infrastructure by harnessing processes that already occur naturally in marine environments, like biocalcification (SDG 14; Life Below Water). This further increases the resilience and adaptivity of the structures (SDG 9; Innovation). 

In the United States, multiple large-scale coastal construction projects have goals of restoring the environment, while protecting waterfronts from flooding and storms (SDG 11; Sustainable Cities and Communities).  For example, “Living Breakwaters” is an ecologically envisioned storm protection project that will reduce flooding and erosion risk, revive natural marine habitats (SDG 14; Life Below Water), and connect residents to Staten Island’s shoreline.

 

We have the technology!

To meet the SDGs by the UN’s goal of 2030, sustainable construction projects need to be implemented wherever possible. In order to change our “business as usual” trajectory, ready-for-market tools for sustainable development must be used. ECOncrete is supporting a variety of partners in deploying these sustainable construction technologies, changing the way our coastlines look and function and building a resilient, climate-adapted future. 

Case Study: Sustainable seawalls for an urban marina

Study Duration: 2014-2020

This case study is for landscape architects, engineers, and asset owners, who would like to understand how ECOncrete®’s technologies are integrated into projects and deliver high ecological performance.  While ECOncrete’s technology can be applied to any marine concrete, this installation was a pilot project to prove the structural and ecological viability of ECOncrete’s seawall. Since this project, ECOncrete has provided the technology for ecological seawalls for ports, marinas, land reclamations, urban waterfronts, and more.

 

Problem & Solution

In our marine environment, we build 70% of infrastructures from concrete. While it’s strong and versatile, this material is detrimental to life underwater, leaving our waterfront assets, ecosystems, and communities vulnerable to a changing climate. Concrete’s underwater impacts are a consequence of three design features: a toxic chemical composition and smooth surface textures discourage marine life from growing on the structure, resulting in less local biodiversity and more invasive species. Flat-plane designs provide little shelter and few growth points for marine biology, resulting in infrastructure that stays lifeless for decades. These design failures combine to create infrastructure with high environmental penalty costs, higher maintenance needs, and lower resilience. 

 

ECOncrete resolves these three features with a patented admix, texture agents, and molds proven to improve the structural and ecological performance of concrete. The admixture seals and strengthens concrete by up to 10%, while a combination of texture agents, liners, and molds bring high surface complexity and design features. ECOncrete’s technology enables a rich layer of marine life, like oysters, tubeworms, and corals to grow, thereby generating an active carbon sink and biodiverse ecosystem, while creating structural benefits, such as greater strength and durability. The technology meets industry standards, is flexibly sourced, and can be easily integrated into any concrete marine infrastructure.

 

Project Details

Herzliya Marina is the largest marina in the Eastern Mediterranean.  It focuses on sustainability and was one of the first marinas in Israel to receive the “Blue Flag” eco-label from the Foundation for Environmental Education. In keeping with the marina’s focus on environmentally-sensitive solutions, they installed four highly textured ECOncrete seawalls to encourage diverse marine life. The seawall panels can retrofit an existing seawall or construct a new, load-bearing wall. The seawall, like any ECOncrete solution, supports a wide array of biodiversity critical for a healthy marine system, and can be adapted to promote specific species of conservational value.

 

Project Monitoring

The study compared ECOncrete’s seawall units to the marina’s existing Portland cement seawall. Immediately after the installation of ECOncrete’s seawall, a baseline survey of the pre-existing seawall’s marine life was conducted. Then, an area within a 30×30 cm stainless steel frame, called a quadrat, was scraped clean of life and used as a control for the study.

 

Twenty-two months post-installation, ECOncrete’s seawall units presented higher biodiversity than the baseline survey of the traditional seawalls. They were covered with a variety of invertebrates: sponges, oysters, bivalves, bryozoans, sessile tube worms, colonial tunicates, as well as coralline algae. In contrast, the marina seawall control plot showed lower biodiversity than the baseline survey.

 

Most of the dominant organisms on ECOncrete’s seawall units were species that cement their calcitic skeletons onto the concrete. These creatures create an additional layer of protection from hydrodynamic forces and chloride penetration, thus leading to reduced maintenance costs and a more durable seawall. This protective layer also has an additional benefit: when the organisms create their shells, they draw carbon dioxide from the water, creating an active carbon sink. When growing on a one-kilometer-long by seven-meter-high seawall, for example, the calcitic organisms on ECOncrete’s technology can generate a carbon sink equivalent to 100 trees every year. Some of these calcitic organisms are filter feeders, which to positively contribute to water quality. 

Concrete seawalls come to life

Caught in a tradeoff

Ports and marinas are an essential part of urban coastlines. They facilitate international trade, serve as important hubs of economic activity, and in some cases serve as trustees, managing public urban waterfronts. While performing these critical services, ports face a challenge when it comes to the infrastructure that supports their activities. 

Port infrastructure such as seawalls, breakwaters, and piers are usually concrete based. While concrete is a strong, versatile, and affordable material for building our urban waterfronts and ports, it is destructive to marine life.

When weighing costs and benefits of marine construction projects, ports can be caught in a tradeoff: building infrastructure that improves their operations and can adapt to more severe coastal conditions, or taking pains to meet climate action goals such as lowering carbon footprints and increasing biodiversity.

What if a tradeoff was taken off the table? What if critical infrastructure could be built sustainably? 

When traditional concrete doesn’t meet modern challenges

Why is traditional concrete unsustainable? The answer lies in its interaction with the environment and the materials used to create it.
Concrete production is responsible for 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Once installed in the water, concrete infrastructures’ chemical compositions and smooth, featureless surfaces make it difficult for marine life to grow on and around the concrete, further destabilizing our oceans.

Not only does the lack of life on and around our port infrastructure lower our chances of revitalizing marine ecosystems, it also has surprisingly harmful impacts on the infrastructure itself. Repairing or replacing traditional seawalls can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars per linear square foot, making consistent maintenance a costly burden, especially with a warming and more energetic ocean. With the help of marine organisms, however, it is possible to have ecologically friendly and structurally sound concrete infrastructure.

How does living infrastructure work?

Natural coastal systems have immense value. Even when only considering moderation of extreme events, like hurricanes, these systems are worth over $12,ooo per hectare per year. When summed, all of the services these ecosystems provide humans (including food, climate regulation, and recreation) can be worth over $84,000 per hectare every year, with coral reefs worth over $150,000 per hectare.

Living infrastructure captures some of the value of natural ecosystems that would otherwise be completely lost by using 100% Portland-cement-based traditional concrete. By mimicking principles of natural environments, also known as biomimicry, coastal concrete infrastructures can recreate some of the functionality and biodiversity of their rocky predecessors.

Three design innovations can help concrete come to life:

Adding ECOncrete admix seals concrete, preventing toxins harmful to marine life from leaching out. This balanced surface chemistry encourages more marine life, and more native marine species to colonize concrete in a much faster period of time. While the infrastructure serves as a home for marine organisms, some of the organisms help armor the structure through a process called bioprotection. Bioprotection is when calcifying organisms, animals that use calcium and carbonate to form their shells, grow and cement their skeletons onto the structure. This helps to strengthen the structure and allows the concrete to act as a carbon sink.

Incorporating surface complexity into infrastructures mimics structurally diverse, porous marine rocks. In contrast to the smooth planes familiar to us from traditional concrete port infrastructures, complex surfaces create the micro-currents sedentary marine species, like filter-feeding oysters, need to attach to the concrete surface. Filter feeders can have incredible impacts on water quality and clarity by removing some pollutants from the water column. For 1 linear meter of seawall, filter feeding animals like mussels, tubeworms, and oysters can filter 45 Olympic swimming pools worth of seawater, or 2.7 million liters.

The designs of traditional infrastructures, like seawalls, or interlocking single-layer armor generally don’t mimic the functionality of natural coasts. For example, these infrastructures don’t retain water at low tide, and therefore don’t provide shelter and breeding spaces for marine life. Through biomimicry and specialized design, concrete infrastructure can allow species to behave naturally, promoting thriving ecosystems in port waters.

Living infrastructure in action

In 2014, an experiment was conducted at Herzliya Marina to compare standard Portland cement and ECOncrete sea walls. ECOncrete’s sea walls differ from standard concrete walls in three ways: concrete chemistry, surface complexity, and macro-design. With this nature-inclusive engineering , ECOncrete’s sea walls reap the benefits of a mutually beneficial relationship with nature.

22 months post-deployment, the ECOncrete seawall units were covered with a variety of beneficial invertebrates, while the original marina seawall (the control wall) had a low diversity of organisms. The results show how in less than two years, ECOncrete’s technology transformed seawalls, recruiting a more diverse collection of invertebrates in comparison to standard Portland cement.

The increased number of organisms living on ECOncrete’s structure contributes to stability, thanks to wave dissipation from a rougher surface and increase durability through bioprotection. 

The higher biodiversity results in a resilient, stable ecosystem, which lowers environmental mitigation and penalty costs. With its plethora of positive impacts on the environment, living infrastructures help ease the burden of strict environmental regulations.

 

Making sustainable seawalls a reality

Ports are key actors in driving environmentally and structurally sound waterfronts. The Port of Vigo in Spain, for example, is partnering with ECOncrete to showcase a new standard for port infrastructure.

In the LIVING PORTS project, the Port of Vigo, Cardama Shipyards, DTU and ECOncrete are working to showcase ready-for-market,  ecological infrastructure, and to incorporate this new standard into marine construction best practices. In taking advantage of this opportunity to transition to environmentally friendly concrete, the Port of Vigo  is closer to reaching its ambitious goal of zero carbon emissions by 2030

As the biggest fishing port in the word, the implementation of living infrastructure at the Port of Vigo will revitalize marine ecosystems and help trailblaze a new generation of port leadership.