Geosynthetics are increasingly being accepted as construction material in different fields of civil engineering. Every stream of civil engineering – geotechnical, hydraulic, environmental and transportation engineering – uses geosynthetics to increase the lifespan of infrastructure assets. These materials offer advantages such as improved performance and durability, and increased productivity of infrastructure assets. Among the various categories of geosynthetics available, geotextiles, geogrids and geomembranes are the three most commonly used products in terms of volume and value. With regard to their use in infrastructure, they find applications in sectors such as roads, railways, water, oil and gas, ports and waste handling.
Market size and key players
Based on their physical characteristics and applications, geosynthetics are classified into woven and non-woven geotextiles, geogrids, geomembranes, geonets, geofoams, geosynthetic clay liners, geopipes, etc. Each of these performs at least one or more of the basic functions of separation, drainage, filtration, reinforcement and protection. The key constituents of the geosynthetics industry are woven and non-woven geotextiles, which account for 85 per cent of the market.
The market for geotextiles has grown at a significant rate of 30 per cent over the past five to six years. Some of the major players that dominate the geotextiles landscape in the country are Garware Wall Ropes, Techfab India, Kusumgar Projects, Strata GeoSystems and Skaps Industries. Some new players such as Manas Geotech and Supreme Nonwovens have also started providing wide-width polyester-based non-wovens for users in the infrastructure sectors. International companies such as Fibertex Nonwovens, Maccaferri India, Tencate, Terram and Huesker are also marking their presence.
Geosynthetics are being used for all conceivable situations in civil engineering and infrastructure projects – roads and expressways, airport runways, embankments for railways, dams, canals, flyover embankments, seaside platforms, retaining walls, etc. Despite their inherent performance-enhancing qualities, geosynthetic materials in India have not gained much traction due to low awareness of their utility vis-à-vis conventional materials. Roads built on soft and expansive soil subgrades suffer from many problems and deteriorate quickly. Investigations reveal that one of the major reasons for the failure of such roads is the penetration of fine-grained soils in the base of the pavement structure, leading to improper drainage and loss of support. In hilly areas, the erosion of slopes often leads to catastrophic landslides, disrupting road networks. To overcome problems associated with soft ground and soil erosion, geosynthetics have become an increasingly important construction material.
Sector-wise, the application of geosynthetics in the transport sector has increased significantly. They increase the strength and stability of the underlying soil in roadways and railway tracks. Among geosynthetic products, the sector primarily uses geogrids, which are used in road works for slope rehabilitation, widening of pavements, erosion control, and filtration and drainage. Besides the transport sector, geosynthetics are 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.
On mining sites, geomembranes are used primarily for liquid containment (drainage water, process solutions and treatment ponds) as basal liners. Geogrids are used to stabilise soft soils present on the upper layers and mine tailings for soil cover placement. Geopipes are used for conveying drainage water, runoff and process waters, and for leakage detection around mining sites. Geotextiles are used as cushion layers to prevent the abrasion of metals. They are also used to filter by-products. Given the ever-growing requirement of metals and fuel, mining activity has picked up pace over the years. This, in turn, has led to an increase in the amount of geosynthetics being used. In the aviation sector, the construction of runways and reinforcing pavements requires extensive application of geosynthetics to provide a smooth and even surface. Steep reinforced embankments or gabion walls are used to provide the flat area for runways and other airport infrastructure.
The global geosynthetics market is expected to grow at a rate of 5-7 per cent to reach over $12 billion by 2024. Government support worldwide along with rising urbanisation and construction to improve infrastructure will drive the demand for geosynthetics in the housing, transport, construction and energy industries. Meanwhile, the growing focus on the environment and sustainable solutions will be the other demand drivers for geosynthetics. New tracks for dedicated freight corridors and high speed bullet trains are already planned for implementation by 2022. This has opened up huge opportunities for the increased consumption of geotextiles. Other new and promising areas that could create demand for geosynthetics are inland water transport systems, inter-basin water transfer, flood control via use of geobags, and landfills.
For the country’s geosynthetics industry to realise its true potential, policymakers need to make concerted efforts to streamline regulations and focus on the widespread application of geosynthetic products.