Saudi Arabia boosts GCC geotextile material sector

Bonar Natpet’s nonwoven geotextile operations in the GCC are growing in tandem with the company’s expanding Saudi Arabian project portfolio

SPECIAL REPORTS, Country Report, Gcc, GCC region, Geotextiles, Saudi Arabia

While the planet is home to all of us, Bonar Natpet can arguably claim a larger share of the pie. The company’s non-woven product is, quite literally, the fabric at the heart of the GCC’s construction boom, whenever and wherever civil construction interphases with soil.

The company has established itself as a frontrunner in providing non-woven geotextiles for countless projects across the region, especially in Saudi Arabia. More significantly, Bonar Natpet’s evolution over the years in the GCC also tells the story of how the regional construction sector has grown in the last decade.

In 2012, following the formation of a joint venture, Bonar Natpet built a fibre extrusion plant and a non-woven geotextile production facility, with an annual capacity of 20,000 metric tons (MT), of finished product in Yanbu Industrial City.

Blair Rawes, the global marketing director for Bonar’s civil department, tells Construction Week about the motivators that led the company to set up shop in the Kingdom.

“The reason we set up a plant [via our joint venture] in Saudi Arabia is that the GCC market for geo-synthetics is growing at a rate of 20% per year, and the Kingdom represents 70% of the geotextile market in the GCC,” he says.

“Growth in the geo-synthetics market is faster than that of the construction industry itself, because the use of geotextiles is increasing by the replacement of traditional work methods.”

Bonar Natpet’s most popular geotextile is its non-woven grade, which is applicable for waterfront developments, erosion control, marine works, storm water drainage pipes, landfills, roads, airport runways, and metro systems alike.

Nonwoven polypropylene fabric is known for its strength, filtration, and separation qualities. It therefore acts as a site safety system, and is known for its ability to protect coastlines and avoid construction structures from mixing with soils.

All these facets help the project deliver solid structural performance, and nonwoven geotextile has become a fundamental component in modern construction projects.

Woven geotextiles are made from polypropylene as well, but its manufacturing process, characteristics, and applications dramatically differ from those of nonwovens.

The former have narrow strands of polypropylene tape woven together during manufacturing, which produces tough fabrics that are much less permeable than nonwovens.

Mohammed Baradii, head of marketing and sales at Bonar Natpet, talks to Construction Week about the company’s operations in the region.

“The GCC is spending a lot of money on infrastructure projects,” he says.

“We have provided in huge quantities for the Riyadh Metro and Doha Metro projects as part of the waterproofing package of the tunnels for the stations.

“We also supplied to the railway itself as part of soil separation and stabilisation below the ground.”

Baradii says Bonar Natpet, which also works on oil fields, has not been affected by the market slowdown in Saudi Arabia. But is the company concerned about low market fluidity in the future?

“There were some delays in certain projects in 2015, but Gulf countries can’t go without developing more landfills or building more roads,” Baradii says.

“Most of the budgets announced, such as Kuwait’s, include some austerity measures, but have not touched infrastructure projects,” he continues, adding Saudi’s is a similar example of such state-funding strategies.

Bonar Natpet is particularly optimistic about the Saudi market, given the government’s plans to construct 1.5 million housing units within the next 10 years, all of which will require geotextiles for roofing and foundation waterproofing.

“Furthermore, housing projects, such as those for security forces in the Kingdom, need road and drainage networks, and therefore, geotextiles,” Rawes says.

The country is also planning work on 28 airports, some of which will be expanded, while others will be constructed from scratch. Baradii remarks: “There is a plan in the country to privatise airports, and this plays in our favour, because private sector clients usually aim for high-end specifications. This includes AASHTO [American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials] standards for transport specifications, with which we already comply. Private clients look for the best maintenance and quality,” he continues, adding the company sees substantial opportunities for its products in the Saudi market.

However, the Saudi government remains one of Bonar Natpet’s largest clients. For instance, the company supplied four contractors on the Jeddah Storm Drainage Water Project, providing them 5-million sqm to 6-million sqm of non-woven geotextiles.

“That was a mega project,” Baradii recollects. “We supplied for the project even before our factory started in 2012/13.”

Furthermore, the company is bidding on projects in Jeddah, Mecca, and Medina, and has already worked on the Al Jawhara Stadium in Jeddah’s King Abdallah Sports City. Bonar Natpet has also supplied for North Jeddah Corniche’s Huta Marine Project with contractors BC Marine and Salco. The $213.3m (SAR800m) project will see a 4.5km stretch of the northern Corniche developed into a park comprising gardens, lakes, and recreational areas.

“We are heavily involved in King Abdullah Economic City and King Abdallah Financial Centre, both of which are huge jobs,” Baradii proudly says.

Bonar Natpet, he adds, also boasts work experience with local industry giants, such as Saudi Aramco and Saudi Bin Laden, with which it worked on the Medina Extension project.

“Our factory was catering from Yanbu, and being only 150km from the Medina Extension site helped solved a supply chain problem the contractor faced,” he says, without revealing additional details.

“We also worked on the Manifa causeway and bridge for Saudi Aramco.”

The 42km causeway passes through 21 oil openings for Aramco, and an oil opening is located every 2km apart.

The company’s Dammam portfolio includes a project for the Essam Kabbani Group at the Mohammed Bin Fahd tunnel. Bonar Natpet worked on the Dammam to Salwa highway, and is likely to work on similar road networks given its approved supplier status with Saudi’s Ministry of Transport.

Baradii says the company has gained a respectable market share on the back of its technical expertise and manufacturing capacities. Bonar, he claims, picked Natpet to partner with in Saudi Arabia due to the latter’s proximity to polypropylene resin and chip, “which is our raw material”. Natpet itself was looking for downstream development partners to produce finished products instead of just raw material.

Their joint venture – beneficial to both parties – placed Bonar within Natpet’s premises, where raw material is pressure-driven through a pneumatic pipe in line with production.

“So we don’t have to pay shipping cost, we never suffer delays, and the material is always there and tailored to market needs,” Baradii says.

Bonar’s Rawes says the development of tuned polypropylene raw material for Bonar Natpet has helped produce the performance required in a nonwoven polymer of lower weight. The reduced weight of the material, and lowered use of polymer, ultimately leads to reduced costs too. This, he claims, is a significant contributor to the success of geo-synthetics in the region.

“If the government wants to build a $26.6m (SAR100m) highway, then with [the use of] geo-synthetics, the initial cost can go down to $16m (SAR60m),” Baradii claims.

“A proper design for the geotextile grid and soil reinforcement will reduce your sub-base layer, and save big amounts in terms of aggregates, which is worth up to 40% of initial cost.”

Besides money, Rawes adds, geotextiles also reduce the project’s carbon footprint by almost 80%.

“So if you reduce the gravel layer in your roads by 40%, that’s an awful lot of trucks not coming to the site, causing less excavation, blasting, and transport [combustion],” he explains.

Baradii concludes: “Geotextiles are an anti-crack system. Their damage control properties require less maintenance and create a sustainable structure that you don’t have to touch for 15 years.”

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