Making the Right Choice

Pipe is often overlooked but nonetheless is a critical component of any water and sewer system. In fact, underground transmission and distribution systems comprise a majority of the replacement costs facing drinking water utilities today. Naturally, carefully choosing the pipe material that best fits a particular utility is not a decision to be taken lightly.

To get a better perspective, UIM talked with Tony Radoszewski of the Plastics Pipe Institute (PPI). Radoszewski has professional experience within virtually every aspect of the plastic pipe industry, from development and research to literally being in the trenches. Today, he uses his background and knowledge to lead The Plastics Pipe Institute (PPI) as Executive Director. ?

Having graduated from St. Mary?s University in San Antonio, Texas, with a degree in chemistry, he spent his early career in the petrochemical industry with various sections of the Phillips Chemical Co., including the polyolefin resins and pipe manufacturing divisions.? His assignments ranged from territorial sales and national sales management to director of business development. ?

Combining his knowledge of polymer chemistry with sales and marketing skills, Radoszewski was called on to create the marketing department for what was to become the world?s largest producer of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipe.? He has also served as president of an international marketing consulting firm from which he was recruited to lead the PPI in 2006.

Q What is the Plastics Pipe Institute? Who are its members? What is its mission?

A Founded in 1950, the mission of the PPI is to promote plastics as the material of choice for piping applications. As a non-profit organization, we act as an advocate for our members to increase the awareness, approval and acceptance of plastic pipe. We provide a forum for our member companies to work in a cooperative effort to broaden the market for plastic pipe and related products. Sixty years of collaboration with nationally recognized organizations have created worldwide standards and guidelines so that today, our members? products serve virtually every underground utility and application where pipe is used.

While the majority of our member companies have high-density polyethylene (HDPE) interests, our organization also includes a number of producers of other plastic resins and pipe including polyvinylchloride (PVC), chlorinated polyvinylchloride (CPVC), polyamide (PA) polypropylene (PP), and crosslinked polyethylene (PEX).

Q How has plastic pipe evolved over the years? What are the latest innovations?

A A primary characteristic of the petrochemical industry, of which plastics is a key faction, is the continuing development of new and highly engineered materials.?Advancements in molecular chemistry and catalyst technology in the basic polymers like polyethylene and polypropylene have improved important design properties as well as processing rates that keep plastic pipe a competitive alternative to metal and concrete pipe. In the case of the newer high-performance materials such as PE4710, increased toughness and ductility properties allow the engineer to design a system closer to the pipe?s ductile limits, taking full advantage of these performance improvements. In practical terms, flow capacity is increased due to thinner walls without compromising long-term performance. Polyamides (PA-11) are now being approved in gas distribution systems as well.

Q How would you rate the acceptance of plastic pipe among consultants and end-users?

A The acceptance of plastic pipe is exceptionally good. Polyethylene pipe is approved and used in virtually every underground utility including natural gas distribution, municipal water and sewer, storm water and electrical and fiber-optic conduit systems. Of the 1.2 million miles of gas distribution pipe currently in the ground, just over 50 percent is polyethylene. For new installations, that number is closer to 95 percent. Combined, polyethylene and PVC pipes have roughly a 70 percent market share of potable water systems and 85 percent market share of sanitary sewer systems. Introduced in the late 1980s, corrugated polyethylene pipe has a 15 to 20 percent share of the storm water market and continues to grow as designers and specifiers learn about its economic and performance benefits.

Q How have asset management principles and the move toward sustainability affected the plastic pipe market? What is the role of plastic pipe in achieving sustainability for water/wastewater systems?

A Perhaps no other issue in recent times has brought greater attention to plastic pipe than that of sustainability. Starting with joints, typically the weakest link in any pipe system, traditional bell and spigot system joins 10- or 20-foot lengths of pipe creating an opportunity for leaks at every joint. PE pressure pipe systems have a zero-leak rate since the heat fusion process produces a monolithic pipeline, including fittings. This prevents loss of treated potable water and wastewater while also eliminating soil, groundwater and root infiltration as well.

Plastic pipe also demonstrates a lower carbon footprint. Less energy is required to manufacture PE pipe since it melts at 270 degrees Fahrenheit whereas iron melts at 2,700 degrees. From a transportation standpoint, lighter weight plastic pipe allows more feet of pipe per truckload. Most states limit 40-foot trailer loads to 72,000 lbs. Forty-eight-inch diameter reinforced concrete pipe used in storm water systems weighs approximately 1,100 lbs per foot. Made in 8-foot lengths, this weight restriction would limit the load to 64 feet of concrete pipe. The same 40-foot trailer would carry 120 feet of 48-inch corrugated PE pipe, cutting the number of delivery loads practically in half. Furthermore, the total weight of the load would be 3,700 lbs, thus requiring less fuel and less stress to the road. And during installation, PE pipe?s flexibility and durability make it the preferred material for trenchless installations including horizontal directional drilling, pipe bursting and sliplining. With less disruption to streets, pedestrians and traffic installation costs tend to be less expensive and at a lower energy price as well.

The long-term service life of plastic pipe systems also enhances its sustainability. Since polyethylene pipe does not rust, it s resistant to tuberculation in water pipes. These tubercles are small mounds of ferric compounds that form on the inside of steel or iron pipes. As these tubercles grow, they roughen the inside of the iron pipe, increasing its resistance to water flow and decreasing pipe capacity and its projected service life. Storm water systems are also subjected to harsh chemicals and aggressive flow conditions.

Polyethylene is unaffected by roadway salts, brackish water and other roadway pollutants. It also demonstrates better resistance to abrasion than concrete or metal, making it not only an acceptable choice for storm water systems but also a preferred material for use in aggressive drainage applications.

PE pressure pipe and storm sewer pipe have calculated service lives of well over 100 years and at the end of its service life, PE pipe can be recycled or used as a fuel source for waste to energy systems.

Q What is the most common misconception about plastic pipe? How do you seek to educate end-users about them?

A Because of plastic pipe?s light weight and flexibility there is a belief it is not strong enough to handle the application. This is contradictory to fact when one considers the market of share plastic pipe. Those designers and specifiers who have already used plastic pipe have recognized its significant features and benefits. For others, we continue to present relative data and case studies, either in person, at trade shows or through media outlets to create a better awareness of plastic pipe and how it has been used successfully in the United States and around the globe.

Q What decision-making criteria should an end-user consider when making a purchasing decision regarding pipe materials?

A In all candor, the first criterion is to have an open mind when considering pipe materials. Familiarity brings contentment but not necessarily the best product for the job. Advances in materials, especially plastics, are quite dynamic and provide solutions to recurrent and vexing problems. The second criterion is an honest and in-depth assessment of performance life. This requires a full understanding (or projection) of the lifetime operating requirements and conditions of the pipe system along with awareness of other environmental or extraneous conditions. For example, what are the required hydraulic demands for the system and will the system still meet those requirements throughout its lifetime? What effect will corrosion, tuberculation and root infiltration have? What is the potential for leaks or soil/groundwater infiltration? How does the water chemistry or effluent affect long-term performance? What are the soil conditions and is the area prone to ground shift or earthquakes? The third criterion is cost. Like performance life, there are many variables that need to be evaluated. Short-term considerations include cost of the pipe and fittings and the cost of installation. Depending on the type of pipe used, there are different options available, including open-cut and trenchless, that must be evaluated. Are there other installation requirements needed such as thrust blocks for water systems or fusion equipment to join the pipe? Long-term costs relate mostly to maintenance. If the pipe is prone to chemical attack, brittleness or infiltration, what are the associated costs for repair and cleaning of the lines? The fourth and last criterion must be consideration of the following question: ?Without compromising performance of the pipe system, which has the best impact on the environment?? Today?s owners and specifiers have a keener interest in the environment than ever before and designers need to be sensitive to this issue. Plastic pipe is often the best solution.

Q How is the current economy affecting the pipe market? What are the short- and long-term prospects?

A Housing starts plays a key role in the demand for pipe. As an early economic indicator, our industry started seeing the effects of the slowdown in 2006. Site development for utility installations including water, sewer, storm and gas was dramatically hit in 2007 and of course 2008 when the wheels fell off of the entire economy. Fortunately we serve many other industries including oil and gas gathering and geothermal systems that have been exceptionally strong over the last few years. Like many other industries, we have seen a rebound in 2010 and are cautiously optimistic that the ongoing economic recovery will continue to increase demand for pipe. Longer term we see the replacement market for water, sewer and storm water systems as a significant growth opportunity. Trenchless installation, specifically pipe bursting, will be significant in the demand for PE pipe.

Q What effect, if any, has the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) had on the pipe market? What about the water/wastewater market in general?

A Unfortunately from our standpoint, ARRA has a negligible effect for plastic pipe. It seems underground infrastructure has taken a back seat to the more visible road work and other above ground construction projects. Our research indicates that a significant amount of this money has yet to be spent but we are still not counting on any significant impact. We see more opportunity in Clean Water State Revolving Funds and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs). These SRFs have proven to be some of the most successful federal programs for providing financial assistance combined with state and local control of spending priorities. Administered through EPA, these federally supported programs provided approximately $6 billion for wastewater and $1.4 billion for drinking water in fiscal year 2010. In light of the projected $540 billion gap estimated by the EPA, this is a mere drop in the bucket for what is truly needed. If Congress would increase the amount of these low interest, flexible loans we would see a tremendous increase in demand for plastic pipe.

Q Plastic pipe, particularly HDPE, is commonly used in trenchless installations. What trends have you seen regarding the use of trenchless? What impact do these trends have on the pipe market?

A As the awareness and acceptance of trenchless installation increases, so does the confidence in this technique and the use of PE pipe. Starting with smaller diameter pipe (4-inch and under) we are now seeing larger diameter pipe systems employing this installation process. Gas utilities have been using trenchless for quite some time and many of the gas utility contractors are now bidding more and more for municipal water projects. We are also seeing some assimilation between gas and water utilities, which further brings trenchless awareness to the water market. As this trend continues, we anticipate increasing demand for trenchless and for PE pipe.

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