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Not just another brick in the wall

New Innovator: Terratonics is an eco-friendly alternative to concrete foundations

Alan Ledwith says concrete production is responsible for 9 per cent of global fresh water consumption annually. Photograph: iStock

Alan Ledwith has spent 30 years in the construction industry, working mainly with timber builds and other types of modern construction methods such as structural insulated panels. Over the years, he came around to the view that the use of concrete foundations for this type of construction was unnecessary, costly and damaging to the environment so he has put his experience to work to develop an alternative.

The result is Terratonics, a patented foundation system based around structural pedestal beam carriers called terrapods that transfer the building’s loads to the specially prepared ground beneath. 

Ledwith set up Terratonics in 2018, having spent the previous three years developing the product. The company employs three people and this is expected to grow to 30 within the next three years.

Terratonics is gearing up for its commercial launch next January. By then, investment will be close to €200,000. This is made up of founder equity, support from Enterprise Ireland and €80,000 from the EU’s main climate innovation initiative, the EIT Climate-KIC accelerator, which is based at Tangent, Trinity College Dublin’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Centre.

“Buildings that use modern construction methods are much lighter than concrete structures and don’t need unsustainable concrete foundations and floors,” says Ledwith, who points out that building an “average” house in the traditional way requires the delivery of up to 17 loads of input from ready-mix concrete to building materials. He notes that concrete production is responsible for nine per cent of global fresh water consumption annually.

“Terratonics is a disruptive green technology that produces 90 per cent less emissions, 100 per cent less water usage and 70 per cent less site deliveries leading to significant positive environmental and commercial impacts,” he says.

“The terrapod is made from an engineering polymer called Nyrim which is extremely tough and has both high tensile and compression strength. It also has low CO2 output during manufacturing compared with concrete which produces 10 per cent of the world’s CO2. No water is used in manufacturing the pods and site deliveries are reduced by up to 90 per cent.

“From a commercial perspective, Terratonics offers up to 25 per cent savings on traditional concrete foundations and floors and is way faster to install – as little as one day versus waiting for concrete to cure for up to 30 days.”

Terratonics is aiming the terrapod at the international market and potential customers will include developers, councils, governments, building contractors and self-builders.

“We already have serious interest in the system from Saint Gobain in France, which is the world’s largest building materials supplier, but progress has been held up for now by Covid,” Ledwith says. “Herriot Watt University in Edinburgh is using the Terratonics solution for its sustainable house of the future for the Dubai Expo, which will be held in 2021. And we are also engaged in a UK government project called Seismic which will standardise the construction of modular hospitals and schools of which 2,000 will be built a year.”

The terrapods are produced by FF Polymer in Donegal and come in different sizes. They sit on the ground in a grid structure scaled to match a building’s footprint.

“I looked at various possible materials for the pods but there were issues with long-term durability. FF Polymer makes couplings for use in the North Sea oil industry where they have to withstand very harsh conditions and that’s why we chose to work with FF and Nyrim,” says Ledwith who is hoping that eco minded architects can be convinced to specify terrapods for new builds.

Pricing has not been finalised yet, but pods will be charged for on a per unit basis with bulk buying options for large projects.

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