PRS’ advanced polymer, Neoweb, creates instant roadways, doesn’t leach into groundwater, can withstand desert sun, winter cold, is earthquake resistant and allows for landscape regrowth.It was America’s secret weapon until the Gulf War. But when US troops went in to fight Saddam Hussein, it was exposed as the only way to get their tanks through the thick desert sand. The troops unfurled a strange honeycomb material, filled it with sand, creating an instant roadway for their tanks to travel on.
Invented by the US military in the 70s, the continued innovation behind PRS’s soil stabilization honeycombs is very much Israeli. Now used as a soil stabilizer in Siberia to help truckers get to isolated tracts of land, or in landscaping to prevent soil erosion, the high-tech honeycombed sheets, called the Neoweb Cellular Confinement System is “beyond clean technology,” says Yitzchak Schary, documentation manager for Tel Aviv-based PRS.
Schary, who’s consulted for Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry on Sustainable Development, speaks with ISRAEL21c about the innovation. Represented in 40 countries, the company’s product is “actually low-tech, high tech and cleantech all in one,” he says. “Although the product is fairly dry, it’s a soil stabilization solution for civil engineering projects, and inherently sustainable.”
Developed as an advanced polymer, Neoweb can be laid out on land, and then filled with local soil, or recycled materials to form a road, or as infrastructure for landscape architects. Schary says the material ¬¬- which holds promise for developing countries where 1 billion people lack access to all-weather roads -, does not leach into groundwater, can withstand the scorching desert sun, the coldest of Siberian winters and is earthquake resistant due to its inherent flexibility.
Founded in the 90s, and used widely today by the oil industry, for the past 5 years Neoweb’s been in Siberia to help trucks access oil fields. Neoweb plays its environmental part to an otherwise polluting industry by ensuring minimal damage to local terrain. With oil located thousands of kilometers in the middle of nowhere, it spares the companies from having to ship in mountains of aggregates, a traditional material used to create roads and infrastructure.
According to the company website, Neoweb significantly increases the lifespan of earthwork projects more than any other geo-synthetic available today, while maximizing resource use and mitigating environmental impact. Remarkably, the honeycomb Neoweb is strong enough to hold tanks, and trucks. “It’s the ultimate sustainable solution,” says Schary.
While the concept first appeared in the US, the Israel company then took the basic American product and “jumped it ahead,” says Schary, who thinks it’s sustainable for a number of reasons: the Neoweb honeycombs provides superior strength, it reduces the amount of filler needed for roads by half; it requires less maintenance than traditional soil stabilization solutions, and is good for the bottom line – it saves companies money.
Neoweb is good for the planet, too. Unlike traditional concrete and pavement solutions, it prevents “heat islands” by replacing traditional hard outdoor surfaces such as parking lots and vehicle access ways. It can also be used for creating green roofs on buildings.
“These vegetated surfaces reduce surface heat absorption, increase energy efficiency and provide a more friendly, natural and aesthetic built environment,” states the company.
The structure of the honeycomb is built in such a way to encourage vegetative growth. Perfect for slopes where erosion might be a problem, Neoweb not only holds the soil in place, perforations in the material allow plant roots and soil nutrients to move between the honeycomb cells. This encourages natural landscape regrowth, and can restore the “green face” of an entire region.
In short, “It creates infrastructure that’s designed to last,” says Schary.