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Reinforced Earth: Sustainable by name

Reinforced Earth prioritises sustainability as part of its product offering. Image: Reinforced Earth.

For five decades, Reinforced Earth has grown its range of sustainable, practical solutions for the infrastructure sector. Roads & Infrastructure Magazine hears from two leaders within the business, as well as engineering consultant Aurecon to learn more.

Backed by 50 years’ worth of experience in tailoring solutions for Australia and New Zealand’s infrastructure sectors, Reinforced Earth’s innovation has at times led to the development of products that are now used as standard around the world.

These technological breakthroughs have been a consistent theme throughout these five decades, so has the need cater for the evolving nature of infrastructure globally.

Now Reinforced Earth is looking to further improve its capabilities to tackle a universal issue, the impacts caused by climate change around the world.

Riccardo Musella, Managing Director – Reinforced Earth, says sustainability has always been an important consideration for the company.

“Funnily enough the historical name of the company has always been Reinforced Earth, then we used to have a slogan underneath that said, ‘sustainable technology’. That was 20 to 30 years ago, and that ethos continues today,” he says.

“It’s the reason why every piece of technology that we design and supply tends to minimise the use of materials overall by using materials that’re already on site, resulting in a CO2 emission reduction overall.

“On top of that, we are a multinational corporation, which is listed on the stock exchange in France. We have our own goals and targets that we need to comply with. We also have a responsibility to fulfill these goals due to our obligation to our shareholders. Sustainability is right at the top in terms of our priorities.”

In addition to these products helping Reinforced Earth’s customers to achieve their own sustainability goals, Musella says being sustainable has also benefitted the company’s own bottom line.

“If you minimise the amount of material that you use, you’re helping your own company from a cost perspective. It’s not always true that being sustainable is more expensive,” he says.

As part of its sustainability journey, Reinforced Earth invested in expert consultation to develop a long-term strategy to reduce the company’s environmental impact. This led to early discussions with Aurecon, a global specialist in advisory, design, delivery and asset management.

Jenni Philippe, Associate, Circular Economy – Aurecon, worked closely with Reinforced Earth to identify potential areas of improvement. She says two points of interest were the company’s range of steel and concrete products – materials that can emit considerable volumes of carbon dioxide during production and application.

“We suggested an approach that enabled them to first understand the baseline and their current carbon emissions across scope 1, 2 and 3. We looked at scope 3 emissions and asked ‘how do we put the right boundaries around that and how do we measure it?’ From that baseline we looked at what some of the potential solutions were that they could implement on their products to achieve their scope 3 carbon emission reduction targets by 2030,” she says.

Philippe says it can often be challenging for businesses to reinvent their solutions by decreasing the associated carbon emissions.

Understanding the volume of carbon emissions associated for each material was a key step in this process, leading to identifying potential opportunities in the supply chain to look for alternative methods and processes to reduce emissions. 

“The first challenge is to understand how big the problem is and what the steps are to implementing different strategies and options,” Philippe says. “Some solutions are readily available. They’re already commercialised in the market, it’s about strategically choosing the right ones.”

Ignacio Hirthe, Business Line Manager Strengthen and Protect – Reinforced Earth. Image: Reinforced Earth.
Ignacio Hirthe, Business Line Manager Strengthen and Protect – Reinforced Earth. Image: Reinforced Earth.

“In a way it’s sort of like piecing together the different parts of a puzzle to give them a robust process, learning what the pieces are, and where they need to be placed.”

As Philippe adds, this process needs to be applied on a case-by-case basis.

“If you look at concrete and aggregates there’s a range of options. One of them is to reduce the volume of cementitious content in a particular mix. It’s about weighing up the lower carbon emission material as well as the level of performance that the product needs to achieve,” she says.

“There’s a range of different elements to consider. Looking at alternative aggregates is an option, while still ensuring that you can still deliver a quality product. The benefits of using different types of recycled content will depend on the localisation of these materials. If you’re transporting elements on a long distance, that will negate the carbon emission reduction potential. 

“Each solution is different depending on where these manufacturing plants are and where the projects are.”

Despite these complexities, Philippe and Reinforced Earth have developed a number of options to consider, only adding to the company’s existing sustainable efforts and strategies.

“There are some great solutions that they haven’t implemented at scale yet. It’s exciting to see how they’ll be able to innovate and respond to market needs. It will also be a challenge, but I’m sure they’ll position themselves as a leader and example, not only just for their clients but also for others in the industry,” she says.


 

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A vast, expanding range

Reinforced Earth’s range of products and offerings is vast, and growing, covering four main pillars, which are retain, cross, protect, strengthen. It’s these four pillars that provide suitable solutions for transport infrastructure, urban development, mining, waste management and even military applications. 

“We are expanding and have introduced a number of new solutions in each business line. We’ve also invested in increasing our capacity with new plant and equipment. We’ve moved to a larger manufacturing property, so we’ve grown exponentially as a player in the precast market. We’re probably one of the few that has these capabilities as a national provider,” he says.

“Both our offices and our yards have grown quite significantly nationwide.”

Each product line is manufactured at four factories domestically, in New South Wales, Queensland and two in Western Australia.

The ‘retain’ range concerns retaining structures such as precast retaining walls and mechanically stabilised earth walls. While ‘cross’ consists of crossing structures, such as tunnel extensions, underpasses, culverts and arch bridges.

As part of its ‘strength’ portfolio, Reinforced Earth designs and supplies materials for geosynthetic solutions used for basal reinforcement applications.

It’s last application, ‘protect’, has been a large focus and beneficiary of growth in recent years, and more pertinent than ever in the face of climate change. The range aims to provide protection to structures in order to mitigate potential damage caused by natural disasters or geo-hazards. Reinforced Earth can also design structures with these risks in mind.

One such product that has soared in demand is the company’s rockfall protection system. Designed to minimise the potential for loose rocks and debris to affect infrastructure, the system is the by-product of Reinforced Earth’s expert engineers and technological development.

Ignacio Hirthe – Business Line Manager Strengthen and Protect, is responsible for overseeing the development and application of this product range. He says the introduction of these geohazard new products aims to ensure that Reinforced Earth can be a one-stop-shop for the infrastructure sector.

“As a company we’re always looking to diversify into new markets so we can provide a more holistic and wider solution to our clients,” he says. 

“Rockfall protection is a consideration that we’ve seen become more in demand, especially in roads and infrastructure projects. Climate change has introduced heavy rain, accelerated erosion and more and more we’ve been seeing rock falls and landslides overseas.

“This new segment or product range of solutions protect infrastructure, roads, assets and most importantly, people from the risks of different geohazards.”

Reinforced Earth’s rockfall protection systems can help to reduce the associated risks of geohazards. Image: Reinforced Earth.
Reinforced Earth’s rockfall protection systems can help to reduce the associated risks of geohazards.
Image: Reinforced Earth.

Reinforced Earth’s rockfall protection systems have been used in many projects internationally, with new projects also underway in New Zealand.

The company has also partnered with Austrian company Trumer Schutzbauten, a geohazards specialist, to develop suitable solutions.

“They’ve been around for many years and have significant expertise in this area, successfully implementing nets and barriers around the world, particularly in Canada, Europe and Southeast Asia. Now we’re partnering in Australia and New Zealand,” Hirthe says.

Hirthe adds that the support from Trumer means Reinforced Earth can develop and adapt existing products to suit specific project requirements.

“We have many off-the-shelf products and systems which have been certified and tested. One of the capabilities that we also have with our partner is to manufacture and design specific systems on a project-by-project case,” he says.

“There was a case in Canada where a catchment fence needed to be installed on top of a small wall, but the wall wasn’t able to withstand the weight. As a result, we adapted the base plate of the barrier to be anchored, using two ropes and a cord to create a floating plate over the wall.

“Those are the little things that we can implement into our systems to adapt them specifically to the needs of different projects.”

To deliver on a project-by-project basis, Reinforced Earth encourages collaboration and communication, to ensure that the company can fully understand the requirements and restrictions of each site.

“We work very closely with consultants and specialist contractors, because most of the time these systems need to be installed in very complex places that are difficult to access. They’re able to provide their point of view so we can offer the most suitable system in each case,” Hirthe says.

It’s only a matter of time before these products are introduced and widely used in Australia.

“It’s a new segment for the company, in some ways a new horizon. For me I find it to be really interesting and fascinating, dealing with geohazards and understanding how they work. I’m looking forward to helping clients better manage risks in the face of increasing adverse environmental events, and as a result, growing this segment quickly,” Hirthe says. 

This article was originally published in the March edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.

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