Congratulations to Mark Combe- Innovative Alumnus
Mark Combe (BE Civil ’87 UNSW, MIE, MIPENZ, RPEQ,) has a passion for getting things done. He also has a passion for engineering entrepreneurship and innovation. His taste for adventure is combined with rigorous research, both in-house and in partnership with academia.
In 2015 his company Fibercon won a prestigious Shell and Australian Department of Industry, Innovation & Science Innovation Challenge Award for their development of a recycled macro-plastic fibre reinforcing made entirely from industrial plastic wastes. Fibercon was the industry sponsor of a three-year PhD program at James Cook University to develop Emesh - whose fibres can reinforce concrete in footpaths, cycleways, shotcrete and small precast elements. The company also tested its Macro Poly and Steel fibres with researchers at UNSW.
Mark’s passion has led to his being acclaimed by Engineers Australia in 2016 as one of Australia’s Top 60 most innovative engineers.
“The construction industry is not nearly as innovative as it could be,” Mark says, “despite the fact that our future depends upon it. It tends to stick with what it knows, and what has worked in the past. Understandable, perhaps, but no longer defensible. We all need to play a role in reducing the carbon footprint of construction.
Concrete represents the second most used material by humankind, second just to water. With an annual use of 24 billion tonnes of concrete globally, it’s vital that we improve sustainability performance.
At the same time, global plastic production every year is more than 300 million tonnes, out of which only 5% is currently being recycled, leading to burgeoning plastic pollution.
For our company, recycling a part of this plastic waste into fibres provides an opportunity to reduce global plastic pollution, and contributes towards sustainable development by reducing the consumption of steel in concrete. Plastic fibres in concrete have been around for twenty years – what is new about our product is that it is 100% recycled. The intention is to do something to give back, to close the cycle of useless waste.
Understandable, perhaps, but no longer defensible. We all need to play a role in reducing the carbon footprint of construction.
Mark Combe - IEAUS's 2016 Australia's Top 60 most innovative engineers
Maybe it’s because I come from the Riverina in NSW, and my people have always been hands-on, but one thing I knew when I left UNSW with my degree - I did not want to work at a desk in a high rise office all day. That was not my idea of engineering. And it hasn’t been my life in engineering.
In my working life I have worked as project engineer on construction sites, and in mining in Australia and overseas. I have travelled all over Australia and gone to places such as New Guinea, Vanuatu, Samoa, the Torres Strait. Some of these remote places have a fairly tough lifestyle but also provide some amazing experiences.
I’m not sure if you could call it a planned career- at times it was more a wild ride! There were some difficult times in the 90’s as companies went bust. About twenty years ago I thought I could do better than this – and I went out on my own. It made for interesting times – some ‘mince and rice only’ days… but here we are now – awards and recognition – and the real satisfaction of being an honest, upfront, reliable engineering company which is contributing to global sustainability.
Funny thing is I have been more involved with UNSW than I expected, working with Professor Steve Foster and Emeritus Professor Ian Gilbert on the Australian Standard AS5100 Chapter 16 – Fibres in Concrete Section. UNSW has also conducted some testing and research on our other fibres, Steel and Macro Plastic. It really is a serendipitous world.”