Besser’s Curtis keynote speaker at BIRD Foundation reception

WASHINGTON — Besser Company President/CEO Kevin Curtis recently delivered the keynote address at the BIRD Foundation annual reception at the Israeli Embassy.Before a crowd of 120 international investors and tech entrepreneurs, State Department diplomats, federal research scientists, and U.S. and Israeli Embassy ambassadors, Curtis introduced attendees to an Alpena-based research and development initiative known informally as “Project Win-Win.”

A partnership between Besser Company and ECOncrete, an Israeli tech startup company, with funding from the BIRD Foundation and research and development at the World Center for Concrete Technology at Alpena Community College, Project Win-Win took the concept of an environmentally sensitive “green” concrete reef design through the development phase to full production on a Besser block machine. The concrete masonry product developed through this partnership is now quickly being deployed around the world to support erosion control, coastal restoration, bio-diversity, and shoreline marine life. Of approximately 60 ongoing BIRD Foundation projects, Project Win-Win was the spotlight project recognized at the Israeli Embassy event.

Among the points Curtis spoke about during his speech:

∫ He shared credit introducing Dr. Ido Sella, lead scientist from ECOncrete, Ryan Suszek and Jason Rensberry from Besser Company, and Dr. Don MacMaster from ACC.

∫ He said Besser Company has been manufacturing concrete masonry blockmaking equipment for 114 years.

∫ He said Besser Company does business in more than 100 countries and began doing business in Israel in 1953.

∫ He expressed pride in the manufacturing excellence of Besser Company employees.

∫ He thanked the BIRD Foundation for the opportunity to bring this project from concept to fruition.

“We are excited to be working with ECOncrete,” Curtis said. “The project is a perfect fit for our two companies. Besser has an excellent track record for making a concept a reality by designing, testing and demonstrating how concrete products can be manufactured on a large scale commercially viable manner.”

The Bi-national Industrial Research and Development Foundation supports industrial research and development in all sectors of the high-tech economy that mutually benefit the U.S. and Israel. Established by the U.S. and Israeli governments in 1977, the BIRD Foundation matches Israeli innovation with U.S. manufacturing expertise by awarding grants in high-tech sectors such as life sciences, electronics, software, bio-technology, homeland security, renewable and alternative energy.

Since its inception, the BIRD Foundation has funded more than 800 projects with cumulative sales of $8 billion annually. Currently the BIRD Foundation funds approximately 20 projects a year. In 2016, a partnership led by Besser Company, the WCCT, and ECOncrete, an Israeli marine consulting firm, won $400,000 in BIRD Foundation funding to conduct research and development into innovative coastal restoration concrete forms and mix designs that could be mass-produced on a Besser block machine.

The success of this project led to the invitation to present at the BIRD Foundation annual conference at the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

“My reaction to the event was ‘wow,'” MacMaster said. “On a worldwide stage, Besser Company’s manufacturing excellence, ECOncrete’s entrepreneurial innovative spirit, and the concrete technology research and development capacity at the WCCT at Alpena Community College all combined to make a powerful statement about the value of enduring partnerships and working together. On this warm night at the Israeli Embassy in the nation’s capital, we were regarded by a tech-savvy international audience as a world leader in manufacturing innovation and excellence. It was indeed a proud moment for Alpena. I’m glad I was there to witness it.”

ECOncrete Tech, based in Tel Aviv, Israel, and Besser Company, with world headquarters in Alpena, worked together to advance bio-enhanced drycast concrete products that mitigate climate change ECOncrete was founded in 2012 by Sella and Dr. Shimrit Perkol-Finkel, renowned marine biologists specializing in the ecological enhancement of both urban and coastal environments. The company provides a series of environmentally active concrete products that enhance the biological and ecological value of infrastructure like seawalls, breakwaters and piers, while also contributing to their stability and longevity.

Besser Company’s agreement with ECOncrete was to develop a high production dry cast system using ECOncrete’s proprietary additives and designs to produce bio-enhanced concrete products. Besser engineering and production staff designed, tested, and manufactured unique molds and concrete products, resulting in the units pictured above.

“The ECOncrete project allowed Besser to develop a new product application through the design of a new mold attachment but also allowed Besser to showcase a very distinctive resource, the World Center for Concrete Technology.” Curtis said. “We have the best resources in the world to design build and test concrete products.”

The units are cabled together as oriented above in broad marine mattresses laid flat along the contour of the shoreline. The unique concave design in the top middle of the unit creates a sort of cavern allowing for constant moisture during tidal fluctuations, nurturing biological growth and associated marine activity. Proprietary ECOncrete additives and concrete mix designs make the unit more receptive to the growth of plant life. The combined effect is to reduce the ecological footprint of urban and coastal infrastructure and mitigate the impact of climate change.