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100% Recycled...Bridges??

Let’s face it, we live in a plastic world and it’s not going to change anytime soon. Just about everything is made from plastic including: toys, computers, phones, medical supplies, cars, and milk cartons. As innovative solutions increase the strength of plastic, its uses are essentially becoming limitless.

Due to the significant amount of structurally-deficient bridges in our country and lack of funds for fixing them, solutions for more sustainable bridges are crucial to re-building our infrastructure. Standard materials like wood, steel, and concrete require routine and costly maintenance to obtain their life expectancy. Furthermore, repairs and maintenance to our bridges can be a burden or inconvenience to traffic and businesses.

A New Approach

Recycled Plastic Railroad TiesAXION International is one of those innovative companies providing sustainable solutions to re-build our infrastructure. Not only do they provide a longer-lasting material with low maintenance, they’re doing it with 100% recycled plastics. AXION claims their products won’t rust, splinter, crumble, rot, absorb moisture, or leach toxic chemicals into the environment. In addition, these products are 100% recyclable at the end of their long life. AXION’s patented process was developed in conjunction with scientists at Rutgers University. This process provides the opportunity to reduce the amount of plastics that end up in landfills, by transforming recycled consumer and industrial plastics into American-made structural products such as railroad ties, girders, pilings, and boards.

Uses and Limitations

Recycled Plastic Railroad Bridge - Ft. Eustis, VAAXION products have been used for a wide range of structures from pedestrian/lightweight bridges, to heavy-load bridges, railroad ties, and railroad bridges. The heavy-load bridges can handle HS20 loading capacity, while the railroad bridges can handle 120 ton freight. In addition, AXION products can be installed using traditional equipment and don’t require any special training. Recently, the Town of York in Maine installed a bridge with an asphalt-wearing surface in just 2 weeks.

Currently, AXION’S I-beams are limited to 30 foot spans, but they can be used in multiple spans, as well. AXION claims longer, single-span bridges could be accommodated with other shapes and formulas which are currently being developed.


AXION claims the cost of a recycled bridge is comparable to steel and treated timber, if not less. While recycled pilings can be 5 times more expensive than concrete, the longer lifespan and lower maintenance makes AXION’s products cheaper over the life of the structure. In addition, the accelerated construction schedules associated with their products versus traditional construction methods can save on labor costs and minimize impacts to traffic and businesses. AXION also claims they are able to use recycled materials acquired from local recycling plants or landfills to produce necessary products in their manufacturing plant. This service, however, also raises the total cost of the bridge.

Heavy-Load Recycled Plastic Bridge - Ft. Bragg, NCOne example of the cost benefits of a recycled bridge is the heavy load structure installed at Fort Bragg, NC. This 71-ton capacity bridge was installed utilizing pilings, pile caps, girders, decking, and a railing system all developed from recycled post-industrial and consumer materials. This bridge used over 85,000 lbs of recycled plastics. The cost per square foot was approximately 33% less than a traditional timber bridge and 54.8% less than a steel/concrete bridge designed to carry the same load. This bridge also paid for itself in less than eight years, due to the lack of maintenance required.

For more information, visit AXION's website at:

Contributed by Steve Lange, PE, Highway & Bridge Sustainable Leader

The "Nature" of Design

London Tower Whose Air Handling System Mimics the Sea SpongeArchitects and engineers at the research and design level are delving ever deeper into the natural world, developing design solutions by mirroring biological systems that have evolved through billions of years of adaptation. This research into “biomimetic” architecture and engineering has created unusual connections between biologists and other scientists with architects, engineers, builders and materials manufacturers to make structures that work with nature, not against it. Beyond sustainability, these designs result in efficient use of resources and energy reduction through “biomimicry”, i.e., the practice of developing sustainable human technologies inspired by nature. Given the impact of buildings on greenhouse gas production, biomimicry offers the potential to reduce carbon emissions by altering the way we build and retrofit our urban environments.

In nature, organisms have developed an efficient and sustainable approach to their use of resources. This efficiency is founded on the truth that an organism cannot use more energy than it produces. As architectural and engineering designs become more sustainable, and thereby more green with regard to consideration of resource use, the mimicking of systems that have been evolving and adapting over such a long timeframe is a logical next step in the design process, i.e., the Natural Design.

Biomimicry is not a new technical approach, but rather a new design approach for architects and engineers. Velcro, perhaps the first well-known example of biomimicry, was invented in 1941 by Swiss engineer George de Mestral who took the idea from the burrs that stuck to his dog’s hair. He observed hooks on the burrs that easily attached to clothing and animal hair. The Velcro fastener system uses a hooked material opposite a looped weave of nylon that holds these hooks. This observation of nature’s design has lead to literally hundreds of applications in our daily lives.

The current architectural and engineering focus on sustainable design has lead to an ever-increasing number of Natural Design examples and research into opportunities that may make biomimicry a common practice. Several examples of Natural Design include:Air Handling Systems Based on Termite Mounds

  • A high-rise building in Zimbabwe was designed to mimic the way that tower-building termites in Africa construct their mounds to maintain a constant temperature. The insects do this by constantly opening and closing vents throughout the mound to manage convection currents of air, wherein cooler air is drawn in from open lower sections, while hot air escapes through upper chimneys. The innovative high-rise building utilized a similar design, incorporating air circulation planning, which results in the consumption of less than 10% of the energy used in similar-sized conventional building.
  • Streamlining Principle Mimicry of Efficient Shapes Found in NatureA company in California has been developing air and fluid movement technologies based on recurring natural designs such as the Fibonacci sequence, logarithmic spirals and the Golden Ratio. These shapes align with the observation that the path of least resistance in this universe isn't a straight line. Put all this together and you get the "Streamlining Principle," being applied to equipment that moves air and liquids in mechanical systems. Fans on motors, compressors and pumps of all sizes and in all applications could save at least 15% of all the electricity consumed in the US.
  • Lotus Effect: Engineered Surfaces Repel Moisture like Lotus Leaves -AND- Wind Turbine Blade Design Based on Shape of Whale FinSuperhydrophobicity is a biomimetic application of what is known as the “Lotus Effect”. The irregular surface of lotus leaves, for example, causes water to bead as well pick up surface contaminates in the process. The water then rolls off and takes contaminates along with it. Researchers are developing ways to chemically treat the surface of plastics and metals to mimic the same effect. Applications are nearly endless and researchers are actively working on coatings for building applications.
  • Mimicking the bumps called tubercles on the leading edge of a humpback whale’s flippers provides promising opportunity for greater efficiency in applications from wind turbines to ventilation fans. As compared to smooth surface fins, the humpback whale’s fins have less drag and increased lift in their movement through air or water. Using such mimicry on wind turbine blades, with a resultant increase in efficiency, will help to make wind power generation more competitive with fossil fuel-based, power-generating alternatives.

Looking out into the not-too-distant future, there is a perspective that we could actually develop buildings by using life-like technologies such as protocells. The result is a futuristic architectural and engineering practice where cities behave more like living organisms. By genetically modifying biological systems, we could grow biodegradable walls constructed of protocell molecules that are capable of self-organization and exhibit sensitivity to their surroundings, leading to the development of intelligent and dynamic building structures. Another biometric approach is the use of bioluminescent bacteria to provide lighting that would have no connection to the grid and would turn colors when targeted pollutants were introduced into the environment. We are clearly on the verge of research and design philosophies that will assure that Natural Design becomes an integral part of our design vernacular and not confined to the halls of institutional imagination. “Living Architecture: How Synthetic Biology Can Remake Our Cities and Reshape Our Lives”, authored by British architect Rachel Armstrong, further considers the opportunity and application for sustained development of our environs through biomimicry.

Contributed by Fred Mock, PE, Site/Civil Sustainable Leader

Shedding Light on the New Light Bulb Law

New federal legislation will impact light bulb selection for all types of facilities. Although the many lighting options can be confusing, this provides an opportunity to reduce operating costs with very little effort. An energy efficiency professional can help determine if replacement fixtures are needed and select the best available lighting options. After estimating initial and life cycle costs, this professional can also identify potential financing options, tax deductions and grants.

25.5% of Energy Used in Commercial Buildings is Consumed by LightingThe United States Department of Energy (DOE) has determined that lighting accounts for over 25% of the energy used in commercial buildings. The most common type of lighting fixture in commercial buildings is the linear fluorescent tube. According to the National Lighting Bureau, there are about 500 million T-12 fluorescent tubes currently in use in U.S. buildings.

As of July 14, 2012, the production of almost all T-12 fluorescent lamps will be phased out under new DOE efficiency performance standards. This change means that now is the ideal time to take inventory of existing building lighting fixtures to identify needed improvements. By completing lighting equipment upgrades, the typical commercial building can expect significant reductions in operating costs. Limited-time grants and tax deductions may also be available to assist with upgrade costs.

2012: Action Required

So, what should you do if your facility still uses T-12 fluorescent fixtures? The first step is to assess the existing lighting. Is the current illumination level adequate for the tasks being performed in each area of the building? Lighting levels that are too low (under-illuminated) can lead to reduced employee productivity, or safety issues such as falls. Equally common is over-illumination, which wastes energy and can also lower productivity. Older florescent fixtures can flicker and hum, leading to occupant complaints. A detailed lighting inventory can evaluate the number and type of fixtures and record lighting levels to help determine the correct fixture types needed to maximize occupant satisfaction. Low-use areas such as storage rooms, maintenance shops and mechanical rooms should also be included in the inventory, as these areas are often overlooked when higher-visibility lighting is upgraded.

Using the lighting inventory, as well as usage patterns, a consultant can determine the best fixtures for your application. The number of options can be daunting, with new products being introduced practically every day. Cost varies widely by technology. Solid-state LED technology is at the top of the price range, but also provides the longest life and greatest efficiencies. High-efficiency T-8 fluorescents with electronic ballasts are the least expensive bulbs, but carry higher maintenance costs due to shorter lamp life. The best value will vary based the number of hours per day the light is needed, frequency of switching lighting on and off, whether dimming is needed, and the quality of light that is most appropriate for the visual task being performed in the area. An energy efficiency consultant will perform calculations to provide the best lighting options based on the owner’s criteria for initial cost, simple payback, or life cycle operating cost.

The Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings Deduction

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005) provides federal assistance for lighting upgrades. For example, the Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings Tax Deduction, a provision in EPAct 2005, allows for the deduction of a portion of the cost of upgrading a building's existing lighting or other building systems, for more energy-efficient systems. The Energy Independence Act of 2007 (EISA) extended this tax deduction for qualifying projects completed before January 1, 2014.

Financing and Grants

State and utility incentives may be available to help fund lighting upgrade projects, but these incentives vary greatly by location and electricity provider. Performance contracts may also be available. A Performance Contractor will install new equipment at no upfront cost to the owner, with this cost recovered from future energy savings. Some utility companies offer on-bill financing, and will allow owners to repay the equipment loan through a monthly payment added to their electricity bill. An energy consultant can help to identify the options available to you.

Contributed by Shirley Jean Bergman, CMVP, Energy Services Sustainable Leader

FAA (Sustainable) Reauthorization -
Airport Funding Changes

Eligibility of Energy-Efficient Airport Equipment Expands After 23 short-term extensions to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization, President Obama has signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which will carry through to September 30, 2015. This is great news for airports in the United States. There are some interesting provisions in the bill related to improving the sustainability of airports. These include:

  • Expanded Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding eligibility for glycol recovery vehicles. These vehicles vacuum glycol contaminated stormwater from pavement surfaces. Expanded use of these vehicles should improve water quality, especially at airports without dedicated de-icing facilities.
  • Requirements for airport master plans to consider solid waste recycling, measures to minimize waste, and the review of waste management contracts. The objective of this measure is to encourage airports to not only pursue recycling programs, but also to actively seek cost savings or even revenue generation by sale of recycled materials.
  • Expanded AIP eligibility for equipment that provides pre-conditioned air and “shore power” to parked aircraft. This will reduce the need for aircraft to utilize their onboard auxiliary power units (APU) for climate control and decrease the need to power aircraft systems while parked at the gate. Supplying pre-conditioned air and shore power is more energy efficient and less polluting than the use of APU’s.
  • The FAA is required to initiate a study through the Airports Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) regarding best practices for sustainability at airports. The report must be submitted to Congress.
  • Requirements that aircraft weighing less than 75,000 pounds comply with Stage 3 noise levels by December 31, 2015. This measure should result in a reduction in airport noise, especially those frequented by older business jets and turboprops.

Funding for Sustainable Airport Planning

The FAA initiated a sustainable master plan pilot program in 2010, with results expected in 2012. While the results of the pilot program are pending, the FAA is planning to allocate a portion of the 2012 AIP to advance more sustainable planning initiatives. Eligible projects include sustainable master plan updates and sustainable management plans for airports that are not ready to undertake a master plan update. The goal of these projects is to establish baselines and goals for reducing solid waste, air emissions, water quality impacts, improving habitat, and/or improving community relations.

Contributed by Jeff Wood, CSDP, Aviation Sustainable Leader

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