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Nonwovens / Technical Textiles

Geosynthetics: Strong Outlook For Growth

Boyd Ramsey and Andrew Aho discuss the geosynthetics industry and the work of the Geosynthetic Materials Association.

Stephen M. Warner, Contributing Editor

The geosynthetics industry is one of the largest end markets for technical textiles; and uses woven, nonwoven, knitted and composite fabrics. The potential untapped applications for the materials in this sector are huge. In this interview, Textile World Contributing Editor Stephen M. Warner discusses the industry and the work of the Geosynthetic Materials Association (GMA) with Boyd Ramsey, chief engineer at GSE Environmental LLC's North American headquarters in Houston and chair of GMA's Executive Council; and Andrew Aho, director of technical markets for the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI), Roseville, Minn. GMA is a division of IFAI.

In the interest of full disclosure, TW notes that Warner was active in organizing the geosynthetics industry while he was with IFAI, establishing the Geotextile and Geomembrane divisions — now combined as the GMA. He also served as secretary general of the Second International Conference on Geotextiles in 1982 and created the IFAI publication Geotechnical Fabrics Review — now Geosynthetics magazine — while at IFAI.

TW: Can you give us a brief description of the geosynthetics industry? How many companies are involved in manufacturing in North America? What are the major end markets for the materials?

Boyd Ramsey
: The demand for geosynthetics has grown dramatically in the last ten years. The global demand in calendar year 2001 was $3.2 billion. The market shares were 42 percent for North America, 35 percent for Europe, 16 percent for Asia Pacific and the remaining 7 percent scattered in the rest of the world. Global sales by product type were 45 percent for geomembranes, 22 percent for geotextiles, 17 percent for geogrids and high-strength fabrics, 17 percent for erosion control materials, and 6 percent for drainage materials. Global sales by applications were pavement, 17 percent; erosion control, 10 percent; drainage, 11 percent; barrier products, 11 percent; and soil stabilization and reinforcement, 22 percent.

In 2010, the global demand for geosynthetics had grown to $6.1 billion. The geographic distribution had shifted a little, too. North America's overall market share had been slightly reduced to 40 percent; Europe's had fallen dramatically to 18 percent; Asia Pacific's had grown to 22 percent; and the rest of the world's had grown to 21 percent. Product type percentage within the geo family of products had changed with the growth. The geomembranes percentage had slipped to 35 percent; geotextiles grew to 35 percent; geogrids and high-strength fabrics, 8 percent; erosion control materials, 11 percent; and drainage material, 17 percent. Global sales by general application in 2010 showed barrier products led with 34 percent of sales; stabilization and reinforcement, 19 percent; pavement, 18 percent; drainage, 16 percent; and erosion control, 13 percent.

Boyd Ramsey

TW: Roughly how large is the North American industry in terms of yardage? Has it grown in the last three years? What is the future growth outlook?

Ramsey: Yardage is a difficult concept. Some products are measured in yards, some in pounds, some in square feet, and some in other units. Growth has been good the past couple of years, returning to, and in some cases surpassing, the pre-recession levels. Future growth outlook is also strong. Geosynthetics are still underutilized, with the reasonable potential for some areas to have double-digit growth over the next several years.

TW: Mr. Aho, you are the managing director of GMA; and Mr. Ramsey, you currently serve as the organization's volunteer chairman. Can you tell us about GMA?

Andrew Aho: GMA is comprised of 80 member companies. The membership includes all the major North American geosynthetics manufacturers, distributors and industry service providers. The overriding goal of GMA is to help grow the geosynthetics market. GMA has been successful in this endeavor by spearheading the development of standards and specifications that make it easier for specifiers to spec the products; through the geosynthetics education of engineers and users; and by the implementation of a robust government relations program for both federal and state governments.

In addition, GMA helps organize geosynthetics conferences such as the Geosynthetics 2013 conference held last spring in Long Beach, Calif. GMA is actively in-volved in the development of the next geosynthetics conference and trade show, Geosynthetics 2015, which will be held Feb. 15-18, 2015, in Portland, Ore. The colocation partner for Geosynthetics 2015 will be the International Erosion Control Association.

Andrew Aho

TW: What are issues that can affect the industry?

Ramsey: In the U.S., Environmental Protection Agency regulations, particularly for coal ash storage, have the potential to expand the market for the products used in these situations. As infrastructure spending expands, the geosynthetics market share of materials used will likely increase at the expense of traditional materials. The improved constructability of geosynthetics and designs utilizing them are also helping to fuel expansion.

Aho: Transportation is one of the major markets for the industry. Government transportation spending is critical. GMA would like to see the U.S. Congress pass a long-term transportation authorization bill that would allow states to do long-range planning for transportation projects.

TW: GMA recently held a lobby day in Washington. What were you trying to accomplish?

Aho: GMA has been holding twice-yearly lobby days since 2006 and has developed good relationships with key members of Congress. When GMA members visit with new members of Congress or staffs, the goal is to introduce the industry, products and applications. GMA members attending our recent lobby day events also advocate a long-term transportation authorization bill, support for the coal-ash bill, and favorable language in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that funds the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects.

TW: Mr. Ramsey, your company serves on the Executive Committee of the GMA. You've been active in the GMA governance for a number of years. A trade organization like IFAI/GMA is dependent on the volunteer contributions of companies within the industry. Can you tell us a little about GSE Environmental?

Ramsey: GSE Environmental is a publicly traded company. It is a leading manufacturer and marketer of geosynthetic lining products and services; and has a worldwide presence in markets such as agriculture, aquaculture, canals, civil, golf courses, mining, power, stormwater retention, waste containment, wastewater and other industrial applications.

GSE's management team is led by Charles A. Sorrentino, president and CEO. The other executive management team members are: Peter McCourt, president, International; Jeffrey Nigh, executive vice president of Global Operations; Mark Whitney, vice president, general counsel and secretary; Daniel Storey, senior vice president and CFO; Gregg Taylor, vice president and treasurer; and, Edward Zimmel, vice president, engineering.

Editor's note: Stephen M. Warner, Arden Hills, Minn., is publisher of BeaverLake6 Report, beaverlake6.com, a Web-based newsletter reporting on trends, data and issues that he feels influence the technical textiles industry. He also is former president and CEO of Industrial Fabrics Association International.

November/December 2013