Podcast Episode 5.2

The Science Behind Making Pipe: Part 02

With Guests:
  • Jason Ahrenholz of Prinsco
  • Dr. Michael Pluimer of the University of Minnesota

Jamie continues his discussion with Jason Ahrenholz, Director of Engineering at Prinsco, and Dr. Michael Pluimer, Director of the Advanced Materials Center at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. In part two, the conversation focused on the sustainability and resiliency of making HDPE pipe.

Episode 5.2 | 17:47 min

Guest Bios

Jason Ahrenholz

Jason Ahrenholz the Director of Engineering at Prinsco, Inc. Ahrenholz has been in the industry for about 15 years, previously working for the Department of Roads as an engineer in the State of Nebraska. Ahrenholz joined the Prinsco team 9 years ago. Jason currently serves as the Chair of the PPI research committee.

Dr. Michael Pluimer

Dr. Michael Pluimer owns and operates Crossroads Engineering and is the Director of the Advanced Materials Center at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. His engineering firm focuses on helping clients develop sustainable engineering solutions for pipes and other underground infrastructure applications. His company has expertise in areas of product design and development, polymer processing and materials, composite materials, testing, and the responsible incorporation of recycled materials into pipes.

Jamie: 

This is the water table.

Kent: 

The chance to hear the agricultural side of these issues.

Jamie: 

A place for people to go find information and education.

Matt Helmers: 

water management is just going to become even more critical into the future.

Jamie: 

How misunderstood what we do is.

Kent: 

I would encourage people to open their minds and listen to this dialogue.

Jamie: 

Welcome back to the water table podcast. Today we’re on the second part of a two part series where we’re discussing materials, plastic pipe materials, and environmental impact with Dr. Michael Pluimer from the University of Minnesota Duluth, and with Jason Ahrenholz, Director of Engineering at Prinsco. Dr. Pluimer, let’s start the second half here just talking about the environmental impact of recycled materials, the carbon footprint. Just start speaking to that and we’ll get into some questions.

Michael Pluimer: 

So from an environmental perspective, we talked about the carbon footprint and how much CO2 the use and manufacturing of certain products are involved with emitting into the environment. And that has a direct impact on climate change. And so we want to use materials that are more sustainable, for example, more environmentally sustainable and have a lower carbon footprint if possible. So there’s several factors that go into the calculation of a carbon footprint, and really one of the things that we do in the industry is we conduct life cycle assessments. That’s a way to assess the overall impact, environmental impact, that various products have on the infrastructure and on the environment itself. So there are several different components that need to be considered when we compare different materials. And that’s the manufacturing of the material itself, where the raw materials are sourced, how the products are installed. In the case of pipes, what types of backfill materials are used around the pipe? And so it just gets to be a fairly complex calculation if we’re talking about comparing, say, plastic pipes to concrete pipes from an environmental perspective. But a few of the things that we need to consider with regards to carbon footprint are the raw materials themselves. So a component of concrete pipe, for example, is cement. Cement is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the world. It’s the third highest CO2 contributor, the production of cement. If you would rank the amount of CO2 that the production of cement emits into the atmosphere it ranks third amongst all of the industries. So in other words, if you would compare the amount of CO2 produced by the cement industry and put that on a scale, it would exceed that of any other country except for the United States and China. So there’s a lot of a lot of CO2 that’s produced in the cement production process. That said, cement is a fairly small component of concrete pipe. So cement is just one of the elements that go into concrete. So when we talk about comparing the impact, I think there there could be definitely some merit in saying let’s minimize our cement use. But cement isn’t the only the only component of concrete pipe. There’s also aggregates and there’s sand and other things in there. So it’s a little bit difficult to compare directly. I would say this, though, that we know that we can greatly reduce the environmental impact of corrugated HDPE pipe by incorporating recycled materials. And why is that? Well, it’s because the process of producing virgin materials is much more has a much higher environmental impact contributor to CO2 than the process of producing using recycled materials and those products. So if we can offset some of the virgin materials that are in our drainage pipes, for example, we can really improve their environmental footprint. So using pipes manufactured with recycled materials has a significant impact on the environment from a CO2 standpoint. And then the only other thing I’d like to add to this is that, you know, concrete is a material that’s extremely useful for a number of applications. So we can’t build our major buildings and structures today without concrete. They’re required element for many roads, they’re required element for required material for bridges. So there’s a lot of applications for concrete. I would argue that drainage pipe isn’t one of the areas where we need to use concrete. We’ve shown historically that other materials performed very, very well in drainage applications. So I think a good environmental argument could be made to say, let’s divert some of those concrete materials and save those concrete materials for those applications where they’re absolutely critically necessary and use other alternative materials that may have a better environmental footprint on those applications that really need it, such as agricultural drainage.

Jamie: 

Yeah. And that leads to also to and a question for Jason around, you know, when you when you are choosing between the two products, Dr. Pluimer did a nice job of talking about the environmental side, and it makes complete sense to me why you would just choose recycled plastic. And many of the applications right now, you know, and county ditch systems, things like that, it’s starting to happen. But still are only allowing virgin product. But another, but another thing just and not bashing concrete, I totally agree. Concrete is a necessary product in a lot of the applications you talked about, but just highlighting plastic a little bit around the joining system and around the joints, in the product, when you’re putting it together and in large diameter mains. Will you talk a little bit about that? And also the environmental positive environmental impact with with having a good joint in the product.

Jason Ahrenholz: 

Absolutely. So, most large diameter most dual wall corrugated pipe, corrugated exterior smooth inner liner has a bell integral bell and spigot joint. In that integral bell and spigot joint has a gasket and when the the two joints two ends of the pipe are assembled, it creates a watertight seal. And we also have perforated product that would have a different gasket that is not intended to create a positive seal, but for some of these large drainage applications, there is a desire not to have infiltration into the ground or exfiltration of the water into the surrounding soil. So, having a, I guess is just superior joining system like we do with corrugated plastic allows for that water due to essentially be conveyed to the to the appropriate location. So, when you think about competitive products, they definitely do not perform to the level that corrugated plastic would from a joining system. You know, we talk about water tight within our industry. And we do testing of finished product. We put that together in a laboratory environment and pressurize that to 10 to 15 psi. And which is a tremendous amount of pressure for for these large diameter pipes. And when you think about the ability to convey water and handle head pressures that you would see in some of these large drainage applications where you have a lot of fall over a great distance. You know, having having a system that can handle those types of surge pressures when you have large rain events where all that water is coming into the pipe at once you want to have confidence that not only the pipe itself will perform, but that the joint it will perform as well.

Jamie: 

Yeah, and I wanted highlight like that just because as we talk in the water table podcast, and as we will continue to over the next several years, we’re going to be talking about water quality. I mean that is that is the highlight. And, and there is not going to be one solution to our water quality issues in America. And in agriculture, it’ll probably be different. It might be wetlands, it might be bio reactors. It’ll be a lot of different things in our other markets and in cities and things that it will be some water harvesting which is gonna require, you know, a bottle tight joint joining system on your product, which is is still a challenge for any industry. But this is where things are headed in our industry in plastic pipe. As people that might be negative to plastic pipe have to understand that it can have a lot of positive impacts to our water quality and the future of America. So, you know, I’m sure as we go along, we’ll ask Dr. Pluimer to come back and join us and talk about some of that stuff, too.

Michael Pluimer: 

I’d be happy to. Just if I can add just to what Jason was saying as well, when we talk really about making decisions on the materials and products used in our infrastructure, whether it’s buried pipes, or whether it’s above ground infrastructure from an engineering perspective. The two key buzzwords we often talk about now, today and over the last decade especially, are sustainability and resiliency. And really sustainability refers to the environmental impact of products. Does the use of this product adversely affect the environment? Does it adversely affect specifically future generations? So that goes into their question on sustainability. What Jason was talking about with joint performance really is related to resiliency. How resilient is this product to adverse applications? Adverse threats that may come to the product? Can it adapt, can it adjust can it handle these adverse events? And certainly the performance of the joint is a critical function with regards to that. And it not only affects the performance of the drainage system itself, but a lot of the surrounding materials. So if you think about it, if a joint is starting to fail it’s going to cause infiltration of the soils around the product. Which can ultimately lead in roadways to sinkholes, for example, or sinkholes in parking lots of can lead to collapses of structures,because of this erosion of the soils into the joints. So it is a really critical component of the resilient aspect when we talk about sustainability and resiliency.

Jamie: 

For sure. And that’s, that’s important also just in the purely in the agricultural application from the standpoint of erosion. And you mentioned that but, you know, we want to keep as much of our topsoil where it belongs and the top of the on the field and use that for growing our crops and having world class production. And if we have issues, issues of erosion, whether it’s erosion of water across the surface because you don’t have a proper drainage system or erosion because you improperly put your main in or you didn’t have the right joining system. All of that is something that, you know, we don’t want to have in our in our industry because we lose the topsoil and because it creates pollution downstream with with all of that topsoil in the water system. So I just want to thank both of you guys for joining us today some pretty compelling discussion about materials from a couple of guys that are knee deep in it every day. At the water table podcast, as we’re closing here, we’d like to give both of you the opportunity to give us your water table takeaways. What do you want to leave the audience with? It’s what the water table takeaways is all about. And we’ll start with Jason Ahrenholz.

Jason Ahrenholz: 

Sure, so we talked a lot today about recycled materials and how there’s been a lot of advancements in the industry as of late and in with Dr. Pluimer’s work. But the reality is that recycle material usage for corrugated pipe is nothing new. There’s a tremendous amount of history with the use of recycled materials. And in there’s a proven performance that can be shown really across the nation and across the world with with the ability to, you know, reuse recycled materials, reuse post consumer and post industrial materials for corrugated pipe and allows the customers to rest assured that they are receiving a quality, high quality product.

Jamie: 

Thank you. Thank you, Dr. Pluimer. What would you like to leave the audience with?

Michael Pluimer: 

I just like to say, you know, as I mentioned earlier about my work and some of my work on my dissertation, what led me into going back into the classroom and into the University is a desire to help train and educate the next generation of scientists and engineers. And when it came to picking a subject or an area of focus for my research, the focus on more sustainable materials and the use of recycled materials specifically in drainage pipes was of interest to me. And the main reason it was of interest is because we have a lot of issues in the world, we have a lot of pollution issues. And I look to what our worlds gonna be like what our planets going to look like 10 years from now 20 years from now 50 years from now,100 years from now. And the question is, what can I do? What can we do to help make it a better place for our children and for our grandchildren? And one of those areas is using more sustainable materials, more environment materials that have a lower impact on the environment. And I really can’t think of a better way to invest time and energy than focusing on how we can improve the situation that we’re in by using these more environmentally sustainable materials for these applications. And, and I’ll say that that’s really resonated with my students. Of all of the topics I cover in the classroom, and I teach a number of different classes, I teach structural steel design, I teach other materials classes, but of all the things that I teach the students the thing that resonates, I think most with them, is this idea of taking a problem, the problem of say plastic waste, pollution, and turning that into something that they can directly solve and impact and make the world a better place. So for example, when I talk to them and say, you know that tide bottle that you’re using to wash your clothes every week or in some in the case of college students, maybe it’s once a month, who knows some of my students. But that tide bottle that you’re using, well when you throw that into the recycling bin, think about what’s going to happen. And the idea or the thought that tide bottle probably has a 50% likelihood of ending up in a corrugated drainage pipe serving a purpose for decades and maybe even over 100 years to come, is just a really, really positive thing. And I think that resonates more with my students than almost any other topic. So I guess that’s the, what I’d like to leave this podcast with is, think about ways that we can do our part to help make the world a better place for future generations. And incorporating more recycled materials and more sustainable materials into our infrastructure is one way that we can do that. So I applaud the plastic pipe industry for being really proactive on this area. I really encourage other drainage industries to do the same. I think the concrete industry can do a lot of things to help improve the sustainability of their products. I think the metal pipe industry can do things. So I would just encourage everybody that’s in infrastructure to consider and think about doing ways that we can produce products, quality products, in a more sustainable and environmentally beneficial manner.

Jamie: 

Yeah, I appreciate you saying that. I appreciate both of you being here. And you know, both of you may have heard my story, and I say it a lot. But where I get really excited and why I’m passionate about being a member of this industry is what our products do for the end user. And I can just add now to that story, around it starts with the tide bottle. It starts with the tide bottle and goes into manufacturing of a plastic pipe, which gets manufactured and sold and ultimately in a farmer’s field. And then that that field grows a higher yielding crop, which puts more money in the farmers pocket. When it puts more money in the farmer’s pocket, he pays more taxes .When he pays more taxes, there’s schools built and there’s communities that are built on the back of the farmers in rural America. And at the same time as all that we’re building a vibrant community in rural America. We’re feeding the world. And if a college student can’t get excited about that, I don’t know what they can get excited about. So I just appreciate both of you being here part of the water table podcast. Keep doing keep doing good work, both of you and we’ll see you again soon. Thank you very much.

Michael Pluimer: 

Yeah, thank you for the opportunity. It’s been a pleasure.

Jason Ahrenholz: 

Thank you.

Jamie: 

If you enjoy what you’re listening to you can find us on your favorite podcast platform. You can find us on Twitter or Facebook. You can also find us at watertablepodcast.com. Thanks for listening.