Innovative Construction Material - Self-Healing Bio-Concrete
When a microbiologist named Hendrik Jonkers tried to come up with a solution to the enduring dilemma of how concrete cracks up over time, his invention sounded like science-fiction: a self-healing kind of concrete infused with bacteria that produces limestone to repair the cracks.
Yet this innovation made him a finalist for the European Inventor Award in 2015, and it also sparked Nikita Sirichawla’s interest in groundbreaking construction materials. Eco-Krete Self-Healing Plasters and Admix, is one of the products that she wants to bring to the forefront of the brand and product list of ICM Technology (Thailand), which she founded in 2015.
The company’s bestseller, NeoBlock, created with the company’s very own Crystal Krete mix, is proof positive of this devotion to innovation. The only such product on the market, NeoBlock boasts 10 times the strength of lightweight concrete blocks. Thanks to a system called ‘Link N Lock’ that she compares to a “jigsaw with male and female grooves on all four sides, which takes care of the vertical and horizontal alignment so you get the first line aligned and everything falls into place,” workers can install them up to 80 percent faster than the industry-standard blocks.
By reducing the heat transfer from outside, NeoBlock ensures that air-conditioning bills won’t go through the roof during the sweltering season in Southeast Asia.
Although she comes from a prominent Indian family of real estate developers, the founding of ICM Technology marked her first foray into this enterprise. As a newcomer in an old-guard business, Nikita laughed about her delusions of grandeur. “I thought I’m going to make it big, I’m going to be the next Bill Gates, but then reality struck.”
That reality was trying to change the set-in-stone mindsets of Thai developers, “who have been using one product for the last 20 years,” she said. The first complaint she received from them was that the block was too heavy. After more refinements her engineers cut the weight from 16 kilograms to 10.5 without losing the most unique attributes and maintaining what she calls the “wow factor.”
The construction business in Thailand tends to be myopic, with little foresight about the benefits of quality, high-end products that will save on installation costs and long-term maintenance. But little by little eyes and wallets are opening to this niche market.
ICM Technology Thailand, in just four years, has built up an enviable portfolio of prestigious clients like Toyota, Nissan, the real estate arm of the Singh Corporation, better known for its brewery, the Divalux Spa and Resort, Chulalongkorn Hospital, and the company is in talks to supply building materials for the Energy Regulatory Commission in Bangkok. To be constructed in 2020 this new 10-story edifice promises to be a study in sustainability that will serve as a crucial litmus test for the energy efficiency of NeoBlock.
Claims of eco-credibility may be a staple of developers’ brochures and websites in Thailand. The reality of these claims, she said, are often groundless. “Many companies will write eco-friendly pitches, but when it comes to practicality and getting down to doing it, they’re much less effective,” said Nikita, who graduated with a BA in Business Administration from the Penn Foster College in the US.
Now that the company is overbooked for the next two years and in negotiations with potential investors to ramp up the capacity of its 30-employee factory in Thailand, while on track to double its year-on-year revenue in 2019, the company is getting ready to roll out a new product called Neoplast in partnership with Izonil Technology. New in Thailand but popular in Europe for many years, Neoplast provides durable waterproofing that eliminates the need for sealants. The one-step installation process also keeps labor costs down.
In the humidity-heavy and rain-battered climes of Southeast Asia, the product’s ability to free any trapped moisture is another big asset. This creation illustrates another part of ICM Technology’s master plan to bring new materials to the industry, or reengineer existing ones, that are specially adapted to weather the climate in the region, which is the company’s target market.
Nikita said that the company is also expanding its product line. They are now the exclusive distributors in Thailand for AGT Technology’s Glow Aggregates which make the basis for SkyTrack, a glow-in-the-dark pathway system that can help illuminate streets, bicycle paths, walkways and cut down on energy costs. Once again ICM Technology has put their own spin on this form of illumination, she said, by “creating a system for flooring with this product.” That development allows limitless design options for the homeowner or hotelier who wants to brighten up a garden or make a living room a little livelier.
Sucking up sunlight, or feeding off indoor lighting fixtures, SkyTrack comes in three colors: plasma purple for outdoors, as well as two shades of blue (sky or aqua) that can be used both inside and out.
When she talked about her disappointment with buying a new condo in Thailand, swamped with mold after just two years, it becomes apparent that her company’s mission is just as personal as it is professional.
“I want to revamp the construction material business,” she said. “That’s my goal. And I’d like developers to think more about end users.”
This article was written in collaboration with Jim Algie, a prolific book author and journalist who covers topics ranging from history and travel to environmental issues and wildlife.
For more information about ICM Technology (Thailand), please visit: www.icmtechglobal.com