As our President said, 'it's builder's time'. Indeed, there is light at the end of the tunnel to overcome the most important crisis we have faced in decades, but we must be prepared because nothing will be the same. In fact, the design of public works is a central topic that few are prepared to tackle with a holistic view. Most of the procedures laid down in the code are ineffective because there is a tendency to distribute responsibilities among several parties, which in fact only leads to misunderstandings and disputes.
A classic example is the management of ordinary and extraordinary maintenance as if one did not depend on the other. The main problem in Italy today is that while incentives and funding are offered for carrying out new work and upgrading existing infrastructure, ordinary maintenance is hardly ever funded.
A person close to me who works in the management of Banca Intesa San Paolo told me that, in their projects, routine maintenance is part of the investment and as such must be considered throughout the life cycle of the asset because it is the only way to keep the asset in good working order for a longer period.
Dr Niko Sarris
From a design point of view, for a project to be complete, it is necessary to take into account the running costs for the use and maintenance phase of the asset but also the environmental impact it produces throughout its life cycle.
The issue of pollution requires careful analysis in order to better orient our choices, and this cannot only concern the first phase of installation, the reduction of maintenance costs and the final phase of disposal of the asset in order to optimise the cost/benefit ratio. In most cases, in pursuit of the idea of saving as much as possible on maintenance, paradoxical choices are made that run counter to the interests of the community and are not very compatible with the environment and the development of local employment.
If we have learnt one lesson from this latest pandemic, it is that only by caring for health, the environment and our community can there be economic development. Therefore, the feasibility project must not fail to take into account in detail the cost of use and maintenance, also because this is the longest phase of the asset in which human activity can have a significant impact.
It is therefore not possible to limit oneself to a simple report on the environmental impact without an in-depth study with measurable values, and even less so to entrust the task of managing use and maintenance to people without any qualifications.
As far as sports pitches are concerned, the latest ECHA report highlighted the risk of micro-plastic pollution from rubber granules in synthetic turf and proposed a total ban to the European Community, proposing a maximum of six years before a total ban to give industry time to find alternative solutions. Today the alternatives are those with 100% plant-based infill or our innovative hybrid system that offers many hours of play for matches and training and reduced maintenance costs.
Natural grass is the best playing surface and professional players confirm this because the sports surface is cooler and more stable for playing and reduces the risk of sprains, injuries and back pain. On the other hand, the number of hours of use is limited and maintenance costs are high.
In order to cope with the increasing demand for use and to reduce maintenance costs, the operators prefer to install synthetic turf fields, compromising on the quality of play because the bounce and control of the ball is substantially changed and the stability of the surface in wet conditions is reduced. The spectators' enjoyment of the spectacular action and the warmth suffers, but it is the players who lose out the most. Players' safety is affected by factors such as premature fatigue on hot days, sprained anterior and posterior cruciates due to the excessive grip of shoe cleats in the synthetic turf, and strained muscles due to unexpected slipping on the wet surface. Several players complain of back pain when the ground is hard and skin abrasions are evident when temperatures are above 30°C.
It is obvious that we play better on an artificial turf pitch than on a natural grass pitch with holes in it, but if we can get a durable natural surface for matches and training, we will have achieved the desired goal.
Dr Niko Sarris
There are some synthetic turf surfaces with a firm backing that allows the roots to grow under the backing and anchor themselves; the synthetic fibres protect the crown on the surface and reinforce it, thus creating mixed sports surfaces where natural grass is dominant, known as 'reinforced natural grass', 'hybrid grass', 'hybrid lawn' or 'mixed grass'. The game is played on natural grass and the presence of synthetic grass is almost imperceptible, so they are equivalent to natural grass pitches.
The cleats mark the turf, but they do not raise the sod of hybrid pitches, so the game is safer and damage to the natural grass is limited, in particular reducing the need for repair work after games.
Hybrid turf systems are appreciated by professional players because they make the playing surface more stable, anchoring the grass to the synthetic substrate that would otherwise, in poor rooting conditions, fail during play and form potentially dangerous holes. The player feels safer and gives his best, allowing for spectacular plays.
In order to ensure the efficiency of a hybrid system, the growing conditions of the natural grass within the synthetic turf must be preserved from the first day after seeding and then in the medium to long term. The expectations in terms of hours of use of the hybrid system are high, which makes the challenge of caring for natural grass even greater. It should also not be forgotten that sometimes the presence of synthetic turf limits the possibility of mechanical intervention and often makes the surface harder both for the game and for the development of natural grass roots.
Dr Niko Sarris
All hybrid systems should meet the expectations of greater strength and durability, but experience has always made the work of maintenance technicians more complex. Integrating synthetic turf into natural grass has been a goal pursued by the industry for the past 25 years but has not always been successful.
A good hybrid system must have certain characteristics in order to preserve the ideal growing conditions for natural grass and at the same time reduce maintenance. It must also have natural grass playing surface softness prerogatives in the range of 65-85 G with the Clegg hammer.
Natural grass experts try to stimulate a rich and deep root system to resist trampling and environmental stress. The presence of turfgrass should not restrict deep root growth. A sandy growing medium must retain a good amount of capillary water, ensure air circulation but must not harden easily; a penetration resistance of more than 1500 kPa limits root development.
The POWERgrass hybrid system has been developed holistically. The synthetic substrate has a three-dimensional and uniform porosity that limits the migration of sand into its pores. The synthetic substrate is soft but resistant to tearing and puncturing and retains its characteristics over time. Natural grass roots grow deep from the first day of growth.
The synthetic fibres are strong, resilient and fixed to the support to allow proper installation and easy maintenance so that they remain upright to truly protect the crowns of the plants. Once the system is installed, the synthetic fibres protrude about 20-25 mm into the surface before planting.
ZOEsand is the result of an in-depth study to improve the physical and chemical properties of sand. It consists of a soil conditioner with three essential components: an elastic, an organic and a mineral component to be mixed with USGA-type sand to make the hybrid surface softer and more fertile. It makes the sandy substrate resistant to trampling that causes hardening and provides more space for roots while increasing infiltration and water retention, saving water for irrigation and fertilisers for nutrition.
The POWERgrass hybrid turf system is a combination of an artificial turf made from a special backing, a sandy substrate with elastic, organic and mineral elements such as ZOEsand and natural grass seeded into the synthetic turf. The system is installed by experienced personnel and the maintenance is tailor-made by the POWERgrass team according to the principles of regenerative agriculture.
The end result is a sports surface with greater grip, stability, resistance, freshness, shock-absorbing and highly draining, which is able to absorb heavy rainfall so that sporting activities can be carried out safely in the rain even without natural grass without dangerous potholes.
The natural grass with its roots finds an anchorage point in the backing and at the same time aggregates the sand with the synthetic grass, giving it greater resistance for many hours of play with reduced maintenance. The system is therefore functional and suitable in areas at risk from flooding and environmental hazards and takes into account the need for high permeability by eliminating the risk of dispersing waste or pollutants into the water table.
The life of the system is indeterminable without an expiry date if it is maintained regularly due to the self-regenerative capacity of natural grass. In the context of sports centre management it is the best choice because at the end of the management period the field must be handed over in good condition and in the case of POWERgrass professional reseeding is sufficient.
POWERgrass sets a new benchmark for hybrid grass, as the system allows us to offer a more cost-efficient professional pitch management, providing a safe pitch for matches and training and a positive environmental impact. Follow our systemic solutions for the territorial spread of the circular economy.
In the table opposite you can see the annual costs of six different professional pitch solutions built and maintained, the cost related to the permitted hours of play for which they were designed, and the environmental impact. Finally, note the overall assessment of all those criteria combined that meet more than 95% of market needs.
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POWERgrass hybrid turf field
Synthetic turf field