Countries like India are beginning to discover the benefits of using geotextiles in road building. Frances Penwill-Cook uncovers the challenges that lie ahead for the geotextile industry.
According to industry research, global demand for geosynthetics is expected to increase dramatically over the next few years, with geotextiles seeing the greatest improvement. India, as one of the emerging markets with China and Russia, and with large-scale infrastructures in the pipeline, is expected to see one of the greatest developments in this field. The international symposium on geotextiles in India predicted the increased use of geotextiles could be in the region of 15% a year. Yet, within India, there are still specifications to be approved and awareness to be raised before geotextile products can meet their full predicted potential.
A recent study into geosynthetics from industry research firm The Freedonia Group predicted that global demand for geosynthetics would increase 5% annually to 4.7 billion square metres in 2013. When focusing on India, it revealed that demand for geosynthetics was projected to increase 12.3% a year to 100 million square meters by 2013, up from just 56 million square metres in 2008, with transportation being its biggest market. The company confirmed that this rate was the strongest in the world for an individual country.
While geosynthetic family members such as geogrids, geonets and geomembranes are used in India, the greatest demand is for geotextiles. Geotextiles are used as a separator between the subsoil and aggregate layer of roads to protect the aggregate layers from sinking in the subsoil. Approximately 37 million square metres of geotextiles were rolled out in 2008 and 65 million square metres are predicted for 2013 (and 113 million square metres in 2018).
5% annually to 4.7 billion square metres in 2013."
This demand largely comes from within the transportation sector as the country is expected to add 309,000km of newly paved roads by 2013 – about 75% of India's population live in rural villages, so the new roads will bring prosperity and business to remote areas.
The Office of the Textile Commissioner in India released its "Report on geotextiles for roadways in India" in 2007, which outlined the potential benefits of using geotextiles to improve roadway quality, durability and cost effectiveness. "It is estimated that the annual loss to economy due to poor roads and congestion is between $3m-$6m," revealed the report, which predicted a $311bn investment by 2012 for total infrastructure, around 10% of which ($34bn) will be spent on roads.
Despite the expectations for demand and the use of geotextiles becoming more widespread, there are some geotexiles manufacturers that believe awareness could be improved within India and see this as the greatest challenge for geotextile growth. One of these companies is Jeevan Products, which has been manufacturing non-woven geotextiles in India since 2000.
"After 2005, the awareness actually started growing due to international consultants incorporating it in their designs and the World Bank making geotextile use mandatory in infrastructural projects funded by it," says Aditya Agarwaal, CEO of Jeevan Products. "Government intervention began only a year back at the lower level. The specifications are being laid down, but are not yet frozen, for the road pavement."
One of the main issues is whether or not existing specifications will be suitable for the climate. The lack of specifications for geotextiles is seen to be a major constraint. This is a sentiment echoed in the Office of the Textile Commissioner's report. "Certain specifications have been laid down but there is still confusion as to whether those will be successful and suitable for Indian soil and weather conditions," says Agarwaal. "It may be possible that the European and American specifications won't work in Indian soil and climatic conditions. Trials are therefore being conducted to find out which specifications of geotextile will work on the various soil types found throughout India."
The Office of the Textile Commissioner in India reported that over the last four to five years a large quantity of imported textiles had been used on projects, such as the Karnataka state highway improvement project (KSHIP), where Andhra Pradhesh Highways and Kerala Highways used a substantial quantity of nonwoven geotextile to improve the road network.
Geotextiles are increasingly being used to control soil erosion on hillsides and embankments because the country faces a high level of soil loss each year due to its monsoon seasons. The Rajiv Gandhi Setu Bridge in Daman, for example, used 82,000m² of high-strength polyester woven geotextile from Techfab India Industries to reinforce the embankment and provide a separation layer.
Roll out required
A major concern for suppliers is that although there is potential, geotextiles manufacturers will not see the benefit unless the materials are actually implemented. This hinders contractors' and engineers' experiences and discoveries on how the differing climate copes with American and European specification materials – and if they do in fact provide cost-effective and durable solutions.
"The government is ready to use it but we need to give practical answers by doing trials, hence measures to convince the government and contractors are taken by manufacturers, institutes and consultants." says Agarwaal. "From the trials on 1km to 2km stretches of road, we will be able to convince the government of the following: the real benefits of using geotextiles in terms of road lifespan, which could be increased to over 20 years (currently only two years); the long-term cost benefits of not repairing the road every year, saving on the use of bitumen, which means saving a petroleum product; the ease with which geotextiles can be used; the practical hands-on experience to the contractor; and finally, that we can hit on the right specification favourable for the Indian climate and soil conditions."
A collaborative approach such as this is was recommended at the symposium on geotextiles, held in India by Business Coordination House (BCH).
The future is geotextiles
Despite the difficulties, the benefits for implementing geotextiles are clear. They increase the life of infrastructure cost effectively, are easily transported, and can be designed and manufactured according to various requirements. The capacity for growth is there, but the industry must collaborate to obtain practical specifications so the potential of geotextiles can be fulfilled.
"We think that ultimately the product should perform so well that one should not have to look back," says Agarwaal. "And that is what we aim for when we manufacture geotextiles – to produce a high-performance geotextile, which is a cost-effective solution to solving geotechnical problems."