Foundation for the future

From European projects to expand high-speed rail networks to Brazilian investments ahead of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, most developed countries have major investments in infrastructure high on their list of priorities. In many developing nations, large infrastructure projects such as the construction of ports, sewage and water systems are seen as essential for future economic success, while in the industrialized world it is often a case of repairing and rehabilitating existing infrastructure.

“With the growth of economies and population, the need for improved infrastructure continues to increase,” says Ruud Bokhout, Business Development Director of Netherlands-based Trelleborg Infrastructure, a global supplier of engineered rubber solutions for several markets within infrastructure such as civil engineering, dredging and energy. “In developed countries major infrastructure projects are used to kick-start the economy, while developing countries have to invest in infrastructure to accommodate their growth.”

The dredging industry, to which Trelleborg supplies hoses and seals, has come to life following the downturn with numerous new port expansion plans under way around the world. Many of these are taking place in China and India, but one of the biggest ventures is the expansion of the Panama Canal to allow for more and larger ships.

“Another growth factor is global warming,” says Bokhout. “Here in Holland, work is ongoing to protect us from being flooded by rising sea levels, and a lot of other countries will have the same problem in the future. This will certainly mean more work for the dredging industry.”

Access to clean water is recognized as a major challenge for the planet, and large water infrastructure investments are under way around the world. Singapore is currently working to improve its water and wastewater system to make the island self-sufficient in water. “They want to keep every drop of water that they have on the island,” says Bill Hagenberg, president of Trelleborg Pipe Seals, which rehabilitated about 30 kilometers of underground water pipes as part of the project, effectively creating a new pipe within an existing pipe without digging it out of the ground.

While Singapore can afford to continue with its investment, global economic uncertainty means that some infrastructure improvement projects have been put on hold. “In the short term, the economic environment for companies in this sector is not so favorable, but in the long term this is a profitable line of business, as a lot of money will need to be spent on sewage and water systems,” says Hagenberg. “It is known that sewage and water systems in the U.S. and Europe are very old and in need of refurbishment.”

In the U.S., cities such as Seattle and Denver are pushing ahead with their own local infrastructure projects, while many national projects lack financing. “We see that Canada is ahead of the curve in infrastructure in comparison with the U.S.,” says Joe Woods, Fluid Power Segment Manager at Trelleborg Sealing Solutions Americas. “And Brazil is working hard. They have the World Cup and the Summer Olympics coming up, which will put demand on the infrastructure down there, and they are expected to invest accordingly.”

Woods says that while business among many of Trelleborg’s customers in the infrastructure sector remains flat, optimism runs high. “When I’m out visiting customers I always try to take a reading of how things are going, and the general feeling is that there are bright days ahead,” he says. “There is probably some pent-up demand that is going to break loose. We’re still in a settling period right now, but once we get through that, I think the floodgates will open.”

A most essential system

In castles, the garderobe, a primitive toilet that ended in the castle moat, proved an efficient means of dealing with human waste. With urbanization this became more difficult. If you walked the streets of London, England, in medieval times, you lived in fear of wastewater and worse landing on your head. The health risks of open sewers were apparent from frequent cholera outbreaks. So in the 19th century we saw the beginning of municipal sewage systems.

In France, one of the least-known but still fascinating attractions in Paris is its sewers. Perhaps not everybody’s choice for a day out, as you watch the odd dead rat and various sizes and shapes of human excrement float by. But this unique experience gives a real insight into the vast engineering feat that has ensured safe sanitary systems in cities around the world.

Amazingly, the original sewage systems of many cities, like the storm sewers of New York City, still form the backbone of modern infrastructure. With many systems now more than 150 years old, maintenance, repair and development are a challenge. Advanced rehabilitation techniques and products are required to cost-effectively maintain a service we take for granted with every flush.

The world is expected to spend USD 40 trillion on infrastructure projects over the next 25 years, according to the Cohen & Steers Global Infrastructure Report:

  • Water: USD 22.6 trillion (USD 9 trillion in Asia, USD 5 trillion in Latin America)
  • Electricity: USD 9 trillion (USD 4.2 trillion in Asia, USD 1.5 trillion in North America)
  • Road and Rail: USD 7.8 trillion (USD 3.1 trillion in Europe, USD 2.1 trillion in Asia)
  • Airports and Seaports: USD 1.6 trillion, (USD 0.5 trillion in Asia)
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