A new method for replacing steel mesh used in concrete reinforcement with recycled plastic has been developed by engineering firm Fibercon in conjunction with researchers from Queensland’s James Cook University.

The technology, which uses recycled polypropylene plastic for reinforcing concrete instead of the traditional steel, results in reduced CO2 emissions, water usage and fossil fuels.

To date, Fibercon’s Emesh technology has been used by councils predominantly in footpaths, but also has applications from pavement concrete to channel drains, embankment erosion control, precast sewer and stormwater pits.

According to a report prepared for the Department of Environment & Energy, in 2016 Australia averaged 107kg of plastic waste per person each year.

Steel reinforcement in concrete – or rebar – was first introduced in the mid 18th century as a means of improving the tensile strength of concrete, and is now the most commonly used form of concrete.

With concrete use at around 1 cubic metre per person, Australia uses 25 million cubic metres of concrete per year. Conservatively, 5 percent is footpath and light pavements - equating to 1.25 million cubic metres. 

Worldwide around 1.6 billion tons of steel is produced per year, making steelmaking one of the world’s leading industrial sources of greenhouse gases. It is also heavily dependent on the use of fossil fuels and water.

The process makes steel from iron ore by heating it with carbon – predominantly coal- with carbon dioxide as a by-product.

Production of a ton of steel generates almost two tons of CO2 emissions, accounting for as much as 5 percent of the world’s total greenhouse-gas emissions.

By using the recycled plastic technology Fibercon says that it has also seen a reduction to date of 1,000 tons of CO2, 200 tons of fossil fuels reduction, and 18,000 cubic metres of water reduction.