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The POWERgrass hybrid system is in line with the 'Do No Significant Harm' (DNSH) principle for the environment, which is fundamental for accessing RRF funding. It offers the opportunity to create an innovative and effective pitch to meet all six objectives of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) because: (a) promotes the ecological transition by disseminating notions of ecological maintenance of sports pitches that can also be extended to the agricultural sector, (b) monitors growing conditions and remotely manages installed systems using digital technology, (c) strengthens the growth of SMEs investing in innovation and formation, (d) provides opportunities for international social cohesion by organising tournaments with PRO teams, (e) has a positive impact on health and the environment and is resilient to climate change, and (f) promotes new skills that stimulate the critical, civic and collaborative sense of young operators. The POWERgrass hybrid system with constant but low maintenance can last up to 30 years and is reusable at the end of its life cycle.

Environmental concerns on the part of institutions

The rubber infills are microplasticsThe rubber infills are microplastics

Undoubtedly, synthetic turf increases the number of hours of playing time and simplifies maintenance, but, it has a negative environmental impact, which is detrimental in the absence of controls regarding lack of maintenance, which is even difficult to verifying without constant monitoring because as long as the grass is green, everything seems to be OK. Furthermore, the waste management of synthetic pitches at the end of their life cycle only stimulates the underworld, which speculates during the disposal phase.

Meanwhile, the market is moving towards more environmentally friendly synthetic turf systems, as concerns about the environmental impact of microplastics have prompted extensive research that produced a report by the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) on how to reduce emissions into the environment. The report estimates that around 50,000 tonnes of microplastics are used each year in the EU/EEA and that around 42,000 tonnes are released into the environment (including emissions from the filler material used for artificial turf, which could reach 16,000 tonnes per year).

In January 2019, ECHA proposed to the European Commission a total ban of rubber infills in synthetic turf pitches on the EU/EEA market to prevent or reduce their release into the environment. It is estimated that this solution could reduce emissions by at least 70% and prevent the release of 500,000 tonnes of microplastics in the 20 years following its introduction.

The reform of the REACH norm provides for a ban on microplastics within six years of its entry into force. In parallel, governments are offering non-refundable incentives or green credits to those who are now moving towards systems and business models following the principles of the circular economy in a sustainable and effective way. An ecological footprint must be drawn that takes into account the entire life cycle of the system through a holistic design that measures the impact at each stage: a) production and installation, b) the period of use and maintenance, and c) the processes put in place of who, what, why, when and where to dispose of waste. The costs associated with maintenance must also be developed and financed, because it is known that ordinary maintenance reduces extraordinary maintenance. Consumption of natural resources, weather-related risks with a minimum 30-year scenario of climate change and disposal or end-of-life recovery with the strategic objective of generating employment in circular processes must be taken into account.

Hence, the need for a hybrid grass system that has a neutral or positive environmental impact and, at the same time, provides a resilient pitch and reduces maintenance, to also provide an economic interest for investors. According to our studies, also confirmed by the independent studies of Sport England, POWERgrass is an effective system that can remedy these issues, offering high usability with low maintenance.

The POWERgrass hybrid (natural and synthetic) grass system is an effective alternative to all-synthetic turf systems that combines playing safety, high usability and positive environmental impact with low maintenance costs.

Dr Niko Sarris

Strategic planning of territory management must prevent waste production

Annual solar radiaton in kilo LangleyAnnual solar radiaton in kilo Langley

Despite the development of higher-quality products in recent years, a synthetic turf pitch does not last more than 10 years at best. Synthetic yarns exposed to the sun deteriorate more than 50 per cent reaching 650 kLy (kilo Langley) of exposure to solar radiation. In the map opposite, it can be seen that the impact of solar radiation can vary from 60 to 200 kLy, i.e. an artificial pitch can last twice as long in the London area with a solar exposure of 100 kLy as in northern and central Africa with a solar exposure of 200 kLy.

At the same time, in the latest generation of synthetic turf systems, organic infill is promoted to simulate natural soil and keep the surface cool, but water evaporation is still much higher than in natural turf. The low density of the organic components makes them easily removable by wind and rainwater, so it is necessary to replenish the infill material every year to maintain the performance characteristics of the system and extend its life.

Disposing of the old synthetic system in an authorised landfill costs 0.45 €/kg because plastic is a non-hazardous special waste and costs are expected to increase in the future due to the decrease in landfills. In addition, the costs of removal, separation of the various plastic components and transport have to be added, not to mention that the disposal of old pitches in landfills is a serious and badly managed problem because it often escapes control.

POWERgrass hybrid carpet is contaminant-free

Grass emerge 7 days from seedingGrass emerge 7 days from seeding

Sunlight (radiation) and heat are the main factors leading to the degradation of polymers. Generally, the damaging radiation is the UV component (290-300 nm). Absorption of UV light causes the breakage of C-H and C-C bonds, formation of free radicals resulting in a decrease in the molecular weight of the polymer, absorption of oxygen and the appearance of new chemical groups (staining, hydrophilicity). In fluoropolymers, the C-F bond is more stable and does not break down under UV light. Therefore, the higher the fluorine content of the polymer, the better its outdoor stability. However, in recent decades health concerns about fluorochemicals have forced the industry to eliminate them from use. The huge fine imposed by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) on Dupond in 2005 is impressive.

In the hybrid turf used in the POWERgrass system there are no fluorochemicals, the fibres are protected by the natural grass and, for this reason, a long service life of more than 20 years is expected. As long as the natural grass is properly maintained, the synthetic fibres are not exposed to the sun and therefore do not age due to photo-oxidation by the sun's UV rays.

POWERgrass hybrid carpet offers a positive environmental impact by promoting natural grass growth

The natural grass is 97% predominant in POWERgrass, while the synthetic turf is almost imperceptible to the athlete. The natural lawn contributes to preventing soil erosion, lowering the temperature and purifying the air from fine dust, and filtering rainwater, meanwhile it consumes carbon dioxide CO2 and produces oxygen O2. By sequestering carbon in the soil, the system offers a significant positive environmental impact because it is known that grasses are able to sequester anywhere from 25.4 to 204.3 g C/m2/year (Zirkle et al., 2011); POWERgrass by optimising the photosynthesis potential with the teachings of regenerative agriculture sequesters more carbon in the soil. Our aim is that, within two years of installation, each field will benefit from its own soil biology and reduce fertiliser inputs.

Natural grass retains rainwater in the substrate thanks to the roots and associated microorganisms, slowing down runoff in the drainage system. The turf returns moisture to the air through transpiration of the leaves, promoting the natural water cycle. Nutrients are retained by the vegetation and the rich bacterial flora associated with it, thanks to foliar applications that are more effective and prevent runoff and groundwater pollution. When the vegetation substrate is saturated with rainwater, a part reaches the drainage trenches and recharges the groundwater with naturally filtered clean water. Only the excess water enters the micro-perforated pipes and drains into the drainage system, thus avoiding accumulation with wastewater and the risk of flooding.

The synthetic backing prevents compaction of the substrate, retains moisture and promotes gas exchange, which is essential for roots and micro-organisms. For this reason, the synthetic backing creates the ideal habitat for root development, offering protection from heat, cold, insects and disease. To maintain optimal growing conditions, POWERgrass requires mechanical raking and surface aeration with the spiked roller every 30 hours of use and, in general, two deep aerations to facilitate gas exchange in the hot/humid periods of early summer and cold/humid periods of late autumn. Combined with the natural cork integrated in the upper substrate, the system remains soft for longer without the need for frequent maintenance.

The ZOEsand soil conditioner offers a buffering effect because it absorbs water entering the rhizosphere, preserving playing conditions even when it rains; it absorbs excess nutrients and exchanges them with the bacterial flora to transfer them to the plants when they are needed, promoting more regular growth. Careful management of irrigation water saves the most precious resource and strengthens the natural turf, which thus becomes more resistant to climate change.

The direct cost is equivalent to a synthetic pitch but the hydraulic management is effective and irrigation water is saved.

Comparison on natural, reinforced, synthetic and hybrid grassComparison on natural, reinforced, synthetic and hybrid grass

Considering the total cost of amortisation and provision for extraordinary maintenance to periodically resurface a pitch - every 10 years for a synthetic (compulsory) and 20 years for a hybrid (not compulsory) - and the cost of routine maintenance we have a very similar annual incidence.

In the case of POWERgrass, routine maintenance must be constant but it is reduced compared to a natural pitch because holes do not form but it is higher compared to a synthetic pitch because it requires fertilisers, seeds, paint for the lines and the purchase of more professional equipment. However, for an initial investment in the purchase of the equipment, which can be included in the investment plan, if maintenance is carried out regularly, the extraordinary work can be avoided to integrate the infill of a synthetic pitch or replacing the turf of a natural pitch.

The amortisation schedule for a synthetic pitch lasts approximately 10 years in northern Italy and 8 years in the south, while a well-designed and maintained hybrid pitch offers the possibility of amortising the investment over 20 years. In the case of long-term financing, the remaining works (lighting, fencing, changing rooms, stands) also benefit from a longer amortisation plan.

Natural grass facilitates the hydraulic management of the territory because it is able to absorb a high quantity of water in the sandy substrate following heavy rainfall and retain the free water suspended between the mesopores of the substrate, thanks to capillary forces until the substrate is completely saturated. Only when the forces of gravity prevail over the capillary forces in the substrate will the excess water be transferred to the drainage layers, thus mitigating the rate of rainwater runoff to the drains. The installation of large rainwater storage tanks is suggested. Once the rainwater has been filtered and purified by the natural grass, it can be used again for irrigation, avoiding the need to draw drinking water from the groundwater table.

Indirect savings for an easy-to-control sustainable playground

If we take into account indirect savings on environmental impact as well as weather risks then the POWERgrass hybrid system always wins because preserving health and preventing damage is the best insurance policy we can take.

For example in a synthetic field frequent brushing of the rubber infill is necessary to lift the fibres and redistribute the rubber granules but, it encourages the production of fine dust and microplastics. Investing in the hybrid pitch also benefits our health because instead of the brushing of the synthetic turf, the natural grass is cut, releasing the pleasant scent of freshly cut grass.

Natural grass in the POWERgrass hybrid system prevents the risk of soil erosion due to sudden weather events that cause flooding, because its roots stabilise the sandy infill along with the hybrid turf and subsoil. On the other hand, when a synthetic pitch floods, the damage can be considerable because, depending on the type of infill, it can take a large part of the water that flows over the turf with it and, in some cases, it can even lift the turf, bending it, which makes any repair complicated and costly.

The maintenance of POWERgrass is easy to perform and control because the grass reacts immediately. This therefore requires seriousness in field management and maintenance and offers the possibility of providing positive environmental certification throughout the entire period of operation. In return for this commitment, the operator does not run the risk of having to replace the field at the end of its management, as many agreements require, and the municipality does not have the difficulty of having to manage a field that is unfit for use because the system does not require a peremptory replacement. In fact, all that is needed is a little seeding and fertilisation to regenerate the field and make it usable again and better than before. 

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