Shoring Up Embankments Not Only Sustains The Environment, But Can Actually Save Energy

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Imagine the embankments along highways, reinforced hillsides at commercial and industrial sites, and levees that support waterways. What you see – and especially what you cannot see behind the walls — is construction material primarily made of concrete, steel, and even polymers. The legacy engineering and technologies for earth management have been around for decades. And the materials employed in the market today for these projects require great amounts of energy to manufacture, ship, and install. Today, there are hundreds of companies searchable under the headings of “mechanically stabilized embankments” (MSE), reinforced hillsides, walls, and levees.

However, today’s business environment requires companies be seen as responsible citizens by demonstrating practices of sustainability, minimizing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and saving energy. An examination of current leaders in this industry (below) shows the need by some to appear green, even though they really are not. There is one newcomer that promises significant reductions in GHG emissions – and energy conservation — in its operations. For this reason, I’m introducing ArmaTerra to CleanTechnica followers.

ATG's GeoTire reinforcement
Recycled tires cut and shaped to reinforce retaining wall. ATG’s GeoTire reinforcement.

ArmaTerra GeoReinforcing (ATG)

Reno-based and founded in 2009, ATG has the distinction of being the most energy-efficient MSE provider because of its patented application of recycled tires. Worn out tires often end up in landfills, sometimes are re-purposed as “crumb rubber,” or are burned as fuel, contributing to GHG pollution. Competitors shore up hillsides and walls with concrete, polymer, and steel geogrids, which are more costly and energy intensive to manufacture and ship. Instead, ATG capitalizes on the vast waste market of 300 million used tires in the US for its raw materials.

To create AGT’s GeoTire product for the job site, contracted tire recyclers are trained to re-purpose (cut and bind) tires to required specs and drop ship directly to the job site. Because of low costs inherent in the recycled tire business, the end cost charged to ATG customers can be up to 20% less than traditional georeinforcing materials of steel or polymers. Strength, durability and corrosion resistance of ATG’s GeoTire are found to be superior to other reinforcing products.

While employing long-standing best practices of earth reinforcement engineering, what ATG uniquely brings to the industry are the energy conservation benefits of recycling. Energy is saved by not having to manufacture steel or polymer geogrid products. Minimal electricity is expended in re-purposing (cutting and binding) the tires for the job site. Transportation fuel is reduced since used tires are already at the tire recycler and the recycler is selected for proximity to the job. ATG is an early-stage company seeking crowdfunding prior to Series A offering in 2014. ATG is the 2013 Western Division Clean Tech Open winner in the Green Building category.


Atlanta-based Tensar, founded in 1983, claims to have invented the “process technologies associated with the manufacture of integrally formed polymeric grid and mesh structures.” Its industry leadership derives from the flexibility, relatively low cost, strength, and durability of polymer-materials. These qualities afford wide application of their reinforcement materials, including highway and railroad beds, hillsides and retaining walls, and coastal and waterway construction. The company also markets polymer-grid and biodegradable products for soil erosion retardation and hillside vegetation retention on behalf of another company, North American Green (NAG). We don’t know the carbon footprint of Tensar’s operations. However, we can assume that its manufacture of synthetic polymer products and energy-intensive concrete is similar to other companies when it comes to GHG emissions. No specific reference is made of being energy efficient.

Reinforced Earth Company

Based in Reston, VA, and founded in 1971, REC has completed over 30,000 projects and claims to be the inventor of the “mechanically stabilized earth” (MSE) retaining wall industry. In addition to retaining walls, its product line also includes sound walls and precast arches for highways, bridges, railways, public, commercial, industrial, and military applications. Company products are made with an “innovative civil engineering material.” However, they are essentially made from steel and cement. The website acknowledges “sustainability” and the “environmental impact” of manufacturing cement. However, the company’s solution is neither cleantech nor energy efficiency, per se, but promises only to use less cement than competitors for wall structures and in some cases to use ground-up recycled materials for back fill.

Other leading MSE companies – none claim energy efficiency in their product line.

SSL, 1997, Scott’s Valley, CA,– Manufactures concrete and steel materials; no green, sustainability, or energy-saving claims.

Propex, 1958, Morristown, TN — Touts environmental enhancement and erosion control, but makes no claim of sustainability or clean technology.

Tencate, 1982, the Netherlands — As a global textile manufacturer, geosynthetics and earth reinforcement is a fraction of its business. Makes no claim of green technology or energy savings.

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