Scope for Growth: Need to address challenges to drive use of geosynthetics

Need to address challenges to drive use of geosynthetics

Worldwide, the demand for geosynthetics by the infrastructure sector is growing steadily, and India is no exception. These materials offer advantages such as improved performance, durability and increased productivity of infrastructure assets. Although geosynthetics add to the initial cost of a project, their use increases the service life of structures and reduces maintenance costs, thereby resulting in long-term cost savings.

India’s geosynthetics market has been witnessing a growth of 8-9 per cent in the past two-three years and was estimated to be around 138 million square metres in 2016. However, it still accounts for a minuscule 2 per cent share of the global volume.

The geosynthetics market is served by both foreign and domestic players. Foreign players have entered the Indian market mostly through the joint venture route. Some of the key players in India at present are Strata Geosystems, Techfab Geosynthetics, Terram Geosynthetics, GeosIndex, Enviro Geosynthetics Private Limited, Gayatri Polymers and Geosynthetics Limited. Some of the key i  mporters are Garware Wall Ropes, Maccaferri India, Terram and Huesker through Archana Structural Engineering, while some of the key exporters are Ambica Polymers, SKAPs Industries and TechFab.

Products and applications

Geosynthetics are being widely and increasingly used in the infrastructure sector to construct retaining walls and steep slopes, highways, airports, municipal landfill sites (under Central Pollution Control Board guidelines), for ground improvement and shore protection works, etc. With climate change and the increasing carbon footprint posing a huge challenge, geosynthetis products offer sustainable solutions.

The potential for the use of geosynthetics is dependent on the soil type in the project area. Some of the areas where these materials can be used are black cotton soil, coastal and delta regions, hilly terrain and in reinforced soil structures.

Geosynthetics are largely manufactured from polymeric materials which retain their properties when exposed to difficult environmental conditions. Based on their physical characteristics and subsequent applications, they are further classified into geotextiles, geogrids, geomembranes, geonets, geofoams, geosynthetic clay liners, geopipes, etc. Each of these performs at least one or more of the basic applications of separation, drainage, filtration, reinforcement and protection.

Geotextiles has the largest share in production, followed by geomembranes and geogrids. The geotextiles market in India was valued at around $68 million in 2015 and is anticipated to witness growth at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 20 per cent till 2024.

Sector-wise, the application of geosynthetics in the transport sector has increased significantly, as it increases the strength and stability of the underlying soil in roadways and railway tracks.

As per industry experts, the road sector constitutes the majority share in the use of geosynthetics in the country at about 40 per cent. Among geosynthetic products, the sector  primarly uses geogrids, which is used in road works for creating slopes/slope rehabilitation, widening pavements, erosion control, filtration and drainage. As per industry estimates, every 15-20 km of road length under the National Highways Development Programme has at least one elevated structure and experts are of the opinion that 5,000-10,000 square metres of geogrids are required for each of these structures. Notably, the road sector accounts for 70-80 per cent of the geogrids market.

Besides transport, geosynthetics are also extensively used in the construction of dams and embankment canals, drainage works, irrigation, solid waste management and soil erosion prevention in coastal areas and riverbanks.

The way forward

India is expected to post double-digit growth during 2017, while the geosynthetics industry is expected to record a CAGR of 5-8 per cent during 2015-22. The increased focus on infrastructure development augurs well for the geosynthetics industry. So far, however, the industry has not realised its full potential. The use of geosynthetic products in several emerging economies including India is quite low compared to that in developed countries.

One of the major challenges is the lack of awareness of the benefits associated with using geosynthetic materials. There is a need to establish recognised testing labs and conduct awareness workshops. In addition, education in geosynthetics, both at academic institutes and at the industry level, is required to generate human resources. At present, the use of geosynthetics is constrained due to the lack of trained personnel.

Further, the lack of specified standards for promoting geosynthetics use is another major challenge. Government authorities should issue guidelines for geotextile use in infrastructure projects which must include unified codes/specifications. The formulation of standards for different geotextiles by the government and the Bureau of Indian Standards in line with international standards is an urgent requirement. The ground rules for the evaluation of geosynthetic materials used in construction needs to take into account all safety requirements. Further, state agencies should encourage the use of geosynthetic products, keeping in mind significant state-level spends on infrastructure under rural development programmes.

To conclude, the outlook for geosynthetics in India is positive, as these materials score high both on the sustainability and environment front. However, to realise the full potential, the issues need to be addressed effectively and in a timely manner.