Besser teams with ‘bio-enhanced concrete’ developer on production technology

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Besser Co. hosted ECOncrete officials at its Michigan headquarters for signing an agreement on the BIRD-backed project. Joining CEO Kevin Curtis (center, right) are (from left) Besser CFO Scott Foerstner and Controller Jason Rensberry; ECOncrete Co-Founder and CTO Ido Sella and Biologist Andrew Rella; and, Besser Director of Operations – Pipe & Precast Ryan Susek.

Through an agreement formalized last month, Besser Co. and Tel Aviv-based ECOncrete Tech Ltd. envision a commercial-scale production system in which proprietary additives and mix designs yield dry cast concrete whose porosity and chemistry foster plant growth. Research has demonstrated how concrete bearing ECOncrete’s mix technology can reduce the ecological footprint of urban and coastal infrastructure and mitigate climate change impacts.

The companies will market and promote products jointly. ECOncrete has commercialized several wet cast products or structures and, through the new collaboration, will apply its technology to dry cast methods. Besser staff will engineer, test, and manufacture molds and concrete elements to ECOoncrete specifications.

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Early commercial applications of wet cast ECOncrete have included a New York Harbor tide pool at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Product developers note how such pools are designed to create local ecosystems that simulate natural water ponds, typical of rocky coastline, and compensate for loss of natural intertidal habitats.

“The project is a perfect fit for our two companies,” says Besser President and CEO Kevin Curtis. “Besser has an excellent track record for making a concept a reality by designing, testing and demonstrating how concrete products can be manufactured in a large scale, commercially viable manner.”

Besser Director of Operations – Pipe & Precast Ryan Suszek is leading the project with support from Alpena, Mich., headquarters colleagues Jason Rensberry, controller; Scott Foerstner, chief financial officer; and, Tim Farley, director of Engineering. ECOncrete’s road to Besser traveled through Alpena Community College, whose president, Dr. Don MacMaster, attended a presentation by ECOncrete CEO Dr. Shimrit Perkol-Finkel. Dr. Perkol-Finkel subsequently visited the college and its World Center for Concrete Technology. ECOncrete then commenced a year-long pilot study in Alpena with the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The following year, company executives mapped a project geared to dry cast concrete production, enlisting Alpena and Tel Aviv staff to prepare a grant request for Israel – U.S. Binational Industrial Research & Development Foundation (BIRD) consideration.

The Foundation funds select projects involving U.S. and Israeli companies in a wide range of technology sectors, and approved the Besser–ECOncrete proposal in December 2015. In a nod to the team behind the BIRD grant, Dr. MacMaster notes, “It’s indicative of the innovative spirit that characterizes both organizations,” adding that the project “will bring world-class Israeli innovation and U.S. manufacturing expertise together in a dynamic partnership.”

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Additional pool structures, along with ECOncrete’s ecological armoring units, are planned in the Big Apple as part of the Living Breakwaters project under way on the Staten Island shore.
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ECOncrete Tech’s “bio-active wall” elements tap the porous concrete’s capacity to induce natural growth of clinging plants, lichens and mosses.
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The dry cast/bio-enhanced concrete project was among nine approved late last year, totaling $7.5 million in funding commitments, as the BIRD Foundation Board of Governors convened in Tel Aviv. The projects will access funding from private sector participants—Besser Co. among them—boosting their total value above $20 million.

The BIRD Foundation provides conditional grants of up to $1 million for approved projects, and works with companies to identify potential strategic partners and facilitate introductions. Candidate projects are reviewed by representatives of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Israel Ministry of Economy and Industry/Office of the Chief Scientist.

“Joint R&D collaborations with U.S. entities, especially those implemented via the BIRD Foundation, continue to be at the forefront of [our] international activity and generate substantial value to various technological sectors in both Israel and the U.S.,” notes Israel Ministry of Economy and Industry Chief Scientist Avi Hasson, BIRD Board of Governors co-chair. “The joint submissions of the current funding round reiterate the tremendous potential of U.S.–Israel R&D relations: High-quality innovative projects that are characterized by their commercialization potential.”

The nine new projects join 926 others the BIRD Foundation has backed during its 38-year history, representing investment of $300-plus million and more than $10 billion in direct or indirect sales attributable to commercialized technologies.