The high cost of growing and maintaining natural grass was one of the main driving forces behind the formation of artificial turf, which is a material made with synthetic fibres and resembles natural grass. Today, artificial turf or synthetic turf is gaining in popularity and is not only found in some of the world's most important sports arenas, but also in residential lawns and commercial buildings.
With the number of indoor,domed or partially covered sports arenas increasing, the need for artificial turf has increased exponentially in recent years, as natural grass would require sunlight to grow.
The first-generation of artificial turf, known as Astro turf, was primarily short-pile fibres without infill. The second-generation turf system used sand infills. Today, however, third-generation turf systems are the most popular, and these use infills that are mixtures of sand and recycled rubber.
The first significant artificial turf was created by David Chaney and his team from Research Triangle Park. Artificial turf gained wider recognition in the 1960s when it was used in the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. Initially, the Astrodome had natural grass, but his was replaced by Astro Turf in 1966 when the grass dried up. Through the 1970s, artificial turf became widely used in both indoor and outdoor stadiums the U.S. and Canada. Artificial turf is also well-received in places with cold climates, such as Russia.
Today, companies like EcoTurf offer customized artificial turf to meet the specific needs of different sports.
Materials Used in Artificial Turf
Artificial turf is manufactured from yarn made up of two types of polymers:
- Polyolefin, comprising polyethylene and polypropylene
- Polyamide, also known as nylons
In some cases, a combination of polymers is also used. Artificial turf is chemically modified to provide a surface with good fibre resilience, frictional resistance, weathering resistance, and durability.
There are two main manufacturing methods used to produce artificial turf. Tufting is the most common process, where the fibre is tufted into a primary backing cloth. The cloth is made from woven polypropylene or urethane. Each tuft is fixed onto a latex-based secondary backing material. The backing material enhances the dimensional and structural stability of the entire turf.
The other method is needle-punching. Here the fibre forms both the pile structure and most part of the backing cloth. First, the fibres are poked or needled into a flat primary cloth, and then the same process is repeated to pull through and angle the fibres to a felt-like structure. Knitting and weaving methods are also used to make artificial turf. However, these are not widely used as the costs are greater than the first two methods.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Artificial Turf
The following are the key advantages of using the artificial turf:
- High-quality with uniform surface
- Comparatively low maintenance requirements
- Weather resistant, thus no adverse effect to the surface
- Mutli-purpose use
- Various colors are available
- No heavy machinery is required for maintenance
- Can be programmed intensively to suit day and night, and also to sub-divide field space
- Easier on the player’s joints as it is padded with rubber granular infill and shock pads
The following are the some common disadvantages of using the artificial turf:
- Initial cost is high
- Expensive to repair if damaged
- Cleaning process require the use of petroleum
- Some concerns about the toxic chemicals used in the infill
- In some cases, heat retention and reflection can become a big issue
- Has to be redone or upgraded every 8-15 years
- Sand-filled artificial turf increases in weight when damp, thereby rendering it difficult to transport, relocate or dispose without the use of heavy lifting and transporting machinery
A research study published in the British Journal of Medicine in 2006 concluded that there was no evidence of greater injury hazard while playing soccer on either artificial grass or natural turf during the Swedish Premier League.
New Innovations in Artificial Turf
Owing to the increase in customized artificial turf, several new innovations have recently come into the market.
- Advanced shockpads - Player performance on artificial turf is further enhanced by embedding shock pads and using high quality infill. It ensures maximum safety for player and long-term usage of the turf system. Airlastic is a company involved in producing shock pad and environment-friendly infill solutions for the sports industry. Their products can also be recycled.
- Astroturf 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th Generation All Weather Pitches are available in the UK. However, only 3G pitches meet professional pitch standards at the moment.