Real world stories about innovators and innovative companies are an important way to learn and we place high value on them at Innovation Excellence. We are very pleased to begin a series of case studies on companies who have been curated by Hult International Business School and Center for Innovation, Excellence and Leadership (IXL Center) in their book Greenovate!
The book Greenovate! documents 53 case studies that are defined by “sustainable, green innovations” (or “green ovations”). Each profile combines business innovation with a synthesized concept of sustainability, from startups to leading global organizations. The next case study in this special Greenovate! case study series is:
AXION INTERNATIONAL – Recycled Plastics as Building Materials
Transforming consumer and industrial plastics into eco-friendly construction materials that are strong as steel, longer lasting than wood, lightweight and cost competitive
Proprietary formula for creating building materials from discarded plastics that are strong and will not rot, rust or corrode. Focus on specific lead customers (e.g., military, railroad ties) that need more cost-effective or better-performing alternatives than existing solutions.
Recycled consumer and industrial hard plastics destined for landfills are used to replace traditional construction materials such as wood, concrete and steel
Axion’s construction materials have been used by the US army to build bridges that can support the weight of tanks in excess of 70 tons and require virtually no maintenance
NOWHERE TO GO:
In 1987, a barge carrying 3,100 tons of garbage was turned away by every landfill site on the US east coast, symbolizing the trash disposal crisis and spurring an increase in recycling activities
TIME AND COST:
The US Army welcomed proposals for alternative solutions when they needed to replace an old wooden bridge in Fort Bragg but were discouraged by time requirements of using concrete or steel materials
The EPA has worked with manufacturers to phase out chemically treated lumber due to environmental and health concerns, prompting the search for a replacement for wood preservatives
LACK OF STANDARDS:
The absence of performance-based specifications and procurement guidelines contributed to the lack of market adoption for recycled plastic lumber
Axion won the Army RFP— while the first bridges they built with the plastic material demonstrated its ability to support cars and trucks, it had not yet proven able to support a 70-ton tank
Currently, only 1%-3% of railroad crossties replaced each year are made from plastic composites because of the uncertainty whether plastic ties fare better than wood ties in long-term testing
A committee of researchers, engineers and recycled plastic manufacturers worked cooperatively to develop test methods and standards that would guide the use of these materials
By bolting two T-beams together to form a new I-beam and using more pilings to support the new beams, Axion was able to build a bridge that can withstand heavier loads
The plastic railroad ties produced by Axion were tested by the American Association of Railroads in Colorado to prove that its plastic ties last longer than wooden ties
Axion has started receiving orders from major US and Canadian railroad companies for their railroad ties and a contract from the US Army to build more bridges
The resulting bridge is not only cheaper to construct, but it also costs less to maintain over a long period than wooden bridges that are often weakened by rot and insect damage
Demand for blended plastics that can withstand high pressure has grown in commercial applications such as decking — this will introduce the product to the residential market
New ideas such as combining blended plastics with the I-beam decking system in residential building structures will make the system cost-competitive compared to traditional wood lumber and bio-composites.
image credits: axioninternational; ixlcenter
Tyler McNally, Ronald Jonash & Dr. Hitendra Patel are co-authors of Greenovate! — Companies Innovating to Create a More Sustainable World and members of the leadership team at IXL CENTER, the Center for Innovation, Excellence & Leadership at Hult International Business School.