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A synthetic turf pitch undoubtedly increases the usability of the game and reduces the cost of maintenance, but looking closely we realise that they are not all the same. There are several selection criteria that we have to weigh up correctly in order to make the most suitable choice, also because we are making an important investment. Firstly, it is good to understand that players do not like to change field types, so alternating between natural and synthetic fields is not a good strategy. Secondly, the characteristics of the individual components and of the system installed must be checked by expert personnel, because experience teaches us that "there is not a perfect pitch" and that "not all donuts come with the right hole".

Artificial turf pitch increasingly simulates playing on natural grass

Players love to play on natural grass, but the choice often falls to the synthetic turf pitch to increase usage during the competition season. On the other hand, where play is intensive, considering the first rule for safe play: the playing surface must be planar. An artificial turf pitch is much better than a natural grass pitch with an uneven playing surface and dangerous potholes.

Synthetic turf is the ideal solution for very intensive play, especially in those facilities where maintenance is sporadic and/or there is a lack of qualified natural grass care personnel. The maintenance of synthetic turf is easier and does not require qualified personnel.

The industry has produced artificial fibres that look more and more like natural grass, and more and more 'eco-friendly' infill materials that make the artificial turf surface look more and more like natural grass.

Our company has had the opportunity to work with leading Italian and foreign manufacturers, build over 150 pitches, evaluate and choose a partnership with an Italian company, the first to start producing synthetic turf in Europe, which is still a step ahead in terms of innovation.

Synthetic grass pitch EscolcaSynthetic grass pitch Escolca

In 2013, like all sectors, the artificial turf market is in a severe crisis. Only those with innovative ideas and products can maintain a stable course, but nowadays we have the experience to choose the best system. Therefore, in order to identify the most suitable one, it is good to know some variables that may or may not constrain the final choice, depending on the intended use and the available budget, also taking into account the environmental impact, during the period of use and maintenance as well as at the end of the life cycle, and the expenses necessary to restore the surface to new.

1. The first choice concerns the height of the synthetic grass fibre.

There are various heights of synthetic turf on the market today, from 6 mm for decorative grass to 70 mm for rugby, with all the intervals in between: 6, 11, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65 and 70 mm. With the exception of the 6 mm turf, which is mainly used for furniture, all other artificial turfs are designed for different sports.

The 11 mm turf is used for hockey, the 15 mm turf for tennis, the 20 and 25 mm turf for multi-purpose fields (football and tennis), and they are all filled with silica sand.

The latest generation of pitches with thicknesses of 40 to 60 mm are designed primarily for football. The heights of 65 and 70 mm are designed for the game of rugby. Always remember that the higher the grass, the more infill material is used, the more 'elastic' the floor becomes.

When looking at a synthetic turf it is important to understand that the height and quality of the synthetic fibre is important because it must contain the stable infill and ensure a longer life. A fibre with a higher height contains more performance infill that allows the player's cleats to sink better and at the same time has a longer life considering that the wear is progressive from top to bottom because it is more exposed to the sun. For example, in a typical 60 mm artificial turf, the first 12-15 mm are filled with sand to make the synthetic turf stable and the last 15 mm must protrude to the surface to give the green appearance, so there are 30-33 mm left in between which are filled with the performance infill to support the player. As the surface starts to wear away, the thickness of the turf is gradually reduced to make it last a few more years.

2. The second choice concerns the type of turf yarn. 

With the introduction of artificial turf in the world of football, the focus has shifted to synthetic pitches. Many new projects were realised in a short time. Competition among Italian manufacturers allowed the introduction of new products, qualitatively superior to European standards, starting with single yarn (the monofilament) to replace the old fibrillated, then the monofilament became thicker, >250 microns instead of 100 microns, softer in polyethylene instead of polypropylene and resilient with ribs to maintain an upright position.

Experience has taught us that flat synthetic fibres are not resilient and lie flat on the surface, but even those with central or multiple ribs very often tend to break after a few years, so you have to pay attention to the guarantees offered for the fibre because its characteristics largely depend on the durability of the field.

In the last 3-4 years research by some synthetic fibre manufacturers has developed several very promising types which we have selected to offer higher quality and longer life.

3. The third choice concerns the type of synthetic turf backing.

In addition to the fibre in the synthetic turf, an important aspect is the backing. The backing is made up of a primary backing, usually a polypropylene geotextile where the synthetic fibres are tufted, and a secondary backing to tuft lock the synthetic fibres to the primary backing, usually an SBR latex or polyurethane adhesive that offers a higher adhesion, which must in any case be greater than 30 N.

Most qualified manufacturers today offer products of equivalent quality, regardless of the technique adopted. However, on the subject of eco-compatibility, it is well known that latex rubber and polyurethane are thermosetting, so it is impossible to melt them down in order to recycle the synthetic covering at the end of its life cycle. However, there is a new method that uses a mixture of thermoplastic rubber and polyethylene to weld the synthetic fibres to the primary support that guarantees the minimum welding parameters (tuft lock) and makes the synthetic cover totally recyclable as it can be melted down and disposed for other industrial uses.

For this reason we have selected in our offer, recyclable and highly draining synthetic turf backing to mitigate damage from weather events and to limit damage to the environment at the end of the synthetic turf's life cycle in line with the principles of the Green Economy.

4. The fourth choice concerns the type of performance infill.

The synthetic turf is usually filled with sand, also known as a stabilising infill, which is needed to stop the artificial turf on the ground. Those with a thickness of 40 mm after the first layer of sand are filled with elastic granules, known as performance infill, to soften the surface and allow the interaction of the player's cleats with the playing surface. The type of performance infill fills the artificial turf by allowing the yarn to protrude about 12-15 mm above the ground, keeps it upright and also protects the artificial yarn from the wear and tear of playing football. The various types of performance infill used in recent years have evolved even more than grass yarns. Today, several types are available, which are summarised below in the order in which they were introduced to the market:

  1. SBR rubber granules, from recycled tyres, which made the newspapers talk so much about their hazardous effects on health, are no longer permitted in the LND regulations,
  2. virgin rubber granules in EPDM (ref. LND no. 2) or thermoplastic (ref. LND no. 1), which are expensive but do not always correspond to added value in terms of quality,
  3. SBR rubber granules, (ref. LND no. 5) recycled tyres, coated with a polyurethane resin to inhibit the release of harmful dust. The most resistant material to treading and the most economical allowed in the LND regulations,
  4. mixtures of organic plant material coated with polyurethane resins (ref. LND no. 4), of which very little is known on the market,
  5. blends of organic vegetable material with SBR rubber granules (ref. LND no. 3) in the maximum measure of 30%, which we believe is a fair compromise between durability and comfort,
  6. mixtures of 100% pure organic plant material which require a high level of maintenance for the removal of the organic material that compacts and the reintegration of the part that degrades over time and/or flies away in the wind. (ref. LND no. 6),

Experience over the years has shown that thermoplastic rubber seems to be easily compacted and forms a single block while, on the other hand, the rebound of SBR rubber is excessive and the bad smell is not eliminated even with the coating. As for the 100% organic vegetable performance infill, it floats easily during heavy rainfall, retains excess water during the winter and most of it is easily degraded by biological activity and player trampling. In hot, dry climates they need large amounts of water to keep the granules moist and prevent them from drying out and becoming dust by intensive trampling.

The organic vegetable mix, possibly mixed with rubber, is an excellent compromise: it uses renewable organic material from cork and coconut, mixed with rubber and falls into the LND No. 3 category of fillers; it combines resistance to treading and consistency to guarantee stability and energy return to the player. If well ventilated it is more resistant to winter frost but at the same time retains the moisture needed to lower the temperature in summer compared to other rubber-only infills. A centred blend that maintains performance properties throughout the year. A product that we gave the best rating for value for money that respects the environment because it aggregates rubber granules.

The use of natural, plant-based infill material makes the playing surface more stable and comfortable, but don't forget that a good synthetic pitch must be built on a stable, level base that allows rainwater to drain off quickly. In addition, the natural infill of plant origin requires regular watering to maintain its elasticity and the routine maintenance plan should include replenishing the infill once or twice a year because it wears out easily.

A better alternative today is the answer to market needs.

In recent years, concerns about the impact of micro-plastics on the environment and the search for more and more "natural" pitches for intensive play, has led to a demand for synthetic turf with 100% organic vegetable granules infill because it is more "ecological" and the interaction of the studs with the surface simulates natural grass.

In recent years, we have seen a wide range of organic granules on the market, made from plant material such as coconut, rice husk, pine bark, corn cob, olive stones, etc. The choice between them is difficult. Choosing between them is difficult because they have numerous defects such as a) poor resistance to wear and tear and become dust that is removed by wind and water b) they float in the event of heavy storms and are transported by the horizontal flow of water c) they degrade over time d) they are not sufficiently elastic e) they require greater water consumption for irrigation than a natural grass lawn to maintain their physical performance properties.

This is why the idea of the POWERgrass natural and synthetic hybrid grass was born, where the supposed "performance bottleneck" is the natural grass offering all the advantages of playing on natural grass and the stability of synthetic grass.

In the POWERgrass hybrid lawn, the organic component is alive and regenerates every year and the cushioning part is due to the natural grass. The infill consists mainly of sand, which is mixed with a 10% mineral soil conditioner based on zeolite. The cork is mixed with the sand/zeolite mix in the upper part above the backing to provide a softer substrate with an ideal cushioning effect, resistant to compaction, more draining and mitigating temperature changes in the growing medium during hot summer and cold winter weather. All this is designed to better support the growth of the natural grass and the player in his actions, which are safer and more spectacular.

The POWERgrass hybrid lawn is intended to set a new standard for playing field construction. In order to guarantee an always playable playing surface and a level playing surface, it is possible to play with or without natural grass, transforming the pitch from all synthetic to all natural in approx. 4-6 weeks and from all natural to all synthetic in approx. 2 weeks.

The POWERgrass hybrid turf offers an equivalent cost compared to the synthetic grass pitch but much lower than the natural grass pitch when calculating the budget over a period of 20 years. It offers an intensive use field of up to 30 hours per week, professional level performance and safety, an amortisation schedule of more than 20 years with no fixed end date for replacement and, with the right maintenance, provides a positive environmental impact by mitigating weather damage and soil erosion. These are the main reasons why POWERgrass is an excellent alternative to fully synthetic turf.

Knowing how many benefits POWERgrass hybrid turf offers, if you care about the safety of your players, respect for the environment, and considering all direct and indirect costs including weather risks, the choice of pure synthetic turf is only mandatory where natural grass cannot grow.

Niko Sarris

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