Geosynthetics according to Francesco Fontana

In this interview, Francesco Fontana, General Manager of Manifattura Fontana and chair of the Corporate Committee of the International Geosynthetics Society council, gives his view on a range of geosynthetics topics. Keep on reading if you would like to learn more on the ecological advantages of geosynthetics, IGS, the sustainability and circularity committees and Francesco Fontana’s vision for the future.

Francesco Fontana, General Manager of Manifattura Fontana

Francesco Fontana is General Manager of Manifattura Fontana. He has been working at the company for 35 years now. The family company was established in 1932 and provides synthetic geotextile non-wovens for the civil engineering market. In 2016, Manifattura Fontana was acquired by the Sioen Group, as the Italian family business has been considered the best strategic partner to enter the geotextile industry.

Geosynthetics, the positive type of plastics

Manifattura Fontana’s geosynthetics are used for two main purposes. First, they are commonly used for the separation of different layers of soil: gravel from mud, mud from sand, etc. Second, they are often used for the protection of waterproofing layers, mostly in infrastructure works, i.e. tunnels, channels, ponds, etc.

“People sometimes find it hard to believe that any type of plastics can be of advantage for the environment. The only problem with plastics, however, is how people misuse it. There are many situations where plastics are very good for the planet and geosynthetics represent a very good example.”

“For example, to build a road, you have the typical technologies that are used to build the different layers a road is normally build of. The good thing is that you can get rid of most of those layers with a simple layer of geotextile to keep it separated. With only one track of geotextile, you do the work of many tracks of gravel, sand, etc. and you can imagine what it means in terms of transport or emissions.”, says Francesco.

In addition, we also have to keep in mind the high CO2 emissions that come with excavation works and the production of concrete. It’s not even only about the CO2, but also about fresh water usage. It’s always a matter of comparing the impacts of different technical solutions.

There are many more examples of how geosynthetics can be used to produce less CO2 emissions than when using traditional technologies.

IGS, an association of major importance to the geosynthetics sector

Francesco has been re-elected to the 2020-2024 IGS Council. The International Geosynthetics Society (IGS) is a world association that is dedicated to the scientific and engineering development of geotextiles, geomembranes and related products and technologies. It mostly is a cultural association that works with manufacturers, professionals and universities.

IGS is really important for the geosynthetics sector, as the members fund research on the geosynthetics topic together and as a member, you gain the trust of the international community. “We have, for example, a program that is called ‘educate the educators’, where our ambassadors organise courses about the technology of geosynthetics for university professors.”, Francesco reports. Thanks to this initiative, future engineers learn about the advantages of geosynthetics early in their career.

Francesco : “ I have been a member of IGS for 14 years. I was too engaged with my business before joining the association. If I could go back, I would start earlier, because participation is knowledge and knowledge is everything.”

Sustainability and circularity

Francesco is active in two sustainability committees. First, he is a member of the sustainability committee of the SABE, Strategic Advisory board on Environment, connected with CEN, the European Committee for Standardisation. The CEN is an association that brings together the National Standardisation Bodies of 34 European countries. This committee involves all imaginable products from all types of brands that are sold in European countries. Francesco Fontana is a member of the geosynthetics committee and represents them in the overarching sustainability committee. Together, the members try to find fixed definitions for sustainability terminology, such as ‘microplastics’, and coordinate the creation of future technical standards.

Second, he is also an active member of the IGS sustainability and circularity committee. Francesco comments on the committees: “I am learning a lot and I‘m more and more convinced how important circular economy is and that there is a lot more to it than recycling, and geosynthetics can definitely play an important role in this.”