Two Israeli marine biologists have joined the country’s start-up craze, using $1 million in new investor cash to develop their innovative, environmentally friendly concrete for marine infrastructure and expand their company, ECOncrete Ltd., into the booming U.S. coastal-upgrade market. The firm has been testing its patent-pending technology over the past year in Israel and New York City and hopes to launch full-scale operations in 2017.
“Our aim is to reduce the footprint of marine infrastructure projects on the environment,” says Shimrit Perkol-Finkel, CEO and co-founder of the Tel Aviv-based ECOncrete. The company claims to have developed a unique concrete with lower alkaline levels, based on various chemical mixtures that mimic the texture and makeup of rock and coral but do not impact the concrete’s strength. “We have also invested in modifying the texture of the concrete so that it contributes to marine life,” she says. The mixtures add 2% to 7% to the cost of concrete on marine infrastructure projects—breakwaters, ports, marinas, piers, beach infrastructure—but saves on future maintenance, the firm estimates.
A project at the Israeli port of Haifa used ECOncrete armoring units on a breakwater section. In New York City, seven tidal pools were built at the Brooklyn Bridge Park beach. Elsewhere in the park, encasements made of the company’s concrete were attached to decrepit wooden piers as an alternative to traditional approaches involving the encasement of pilings in smooth concrete or fiberglass—a practice that introduces invasive species and degrades marine life that can strengthen pilings, the company says.
“In both Haifa and New York, we found that the variety of marine flora and fauna living near the units increased, and, over time, the marine wildlife adds a biological layer that further strengthens the concrete and prevents it from weakening,” says Perkol-Finkel. ECOncrete co-founder Ido Sella says installations include a filtration system that prevents debris, oil and other outside elements from entering tide pools.
The firm aims to license its technology in various global markets, focusing initially on the U.S., where it plans to open an office and participate in large marine infrastructure projects, now in planning. Last month, an Israeli-U.S. foundation awarded ECOncrete and Michigan-based Besser Co. an $850,000 grant to develop bio-enhanced dry-cast concrete products that reduce the impact of climatic conditions.