Materials scientist Dr Ian D. Peggs has been involved with geosynthetics for more than 40 years. His company I-CORP has been an IGS Corporate Member since 2006. In 1994 he received the IGS Special Recognition Award for his work on the influence of polymer microstructure on the performance of geomembranes. He was awarded IGS Honorary Membership in 2018.
Dr Peggs has now decided to take a step back from corporate life, closing I-CORP to pursue a life of active retirement. We spoke to the “loose cannon” about his career.
Tell us something about your involvement with the IGS.
I have been a member since Day 1. I-CORP had been a corporate member of the IGS for 14 years. I have attended every international conference since Vienna 1986, and several European conferences and others. In some cases I have organized workshops in association with the conference. The main value of being a member is easy access to other members – an excellent technical resource. It gives one credibility in the industry.
Can you tell us a bit about I-CORP?
I-CORP INTERNATIONAL, Inc, was a plastic materials engineering/science performance consulting company. It worked with clients around the world, in over 40 countries, to help those involved with geomembrane lining systems to get them right the first time or to determine the cause of problems and failures. I-CORP also looked for new technologies to apply to geomembranes, to provide them as a service while developing them, then to teach others how to use the new technologies. For instance geoelectric integrity and leak location surveys were found in Lithium Mining evaporation ponds by I-CORP in the mid-1980s and were developed and used by I-CORP/Peggs. An instruction/accreditation course was developed in conjunction with TRI Environmental in 2004.
You have close ties to the IGS – your daughter-in-law Elizabeth was IGS Secretary for many years. What has the IGS meant to you personally and business-wise?
Elizabeth was IGS secretary for 13 years while her mother Diana was Secretariat, so yes I have had close ties to the Society. This has made it easier talking to the top people in the industry on both a technical and social level. Normally I am quiet and reserved! The best event for this is the corporate member reception at each conference.
Do I have other family involved in the geosynthetics industry? I think two is quite enough!
How did your interest in geosynthetics start?
At high school I told my physics teacher that I wanted to do physics. He said, ‘No you don’t, you need to be more applied. Something like Metallurgy.’ So I ended up with a bachelors degree in Fabrication Metallurgy, non-ferrous materials (Imperial College), and a doctorate in Physical Metallurgy, ferrous (Sheffield). I started plastics work in my first job at Atomic Energy of Canada then got to know Joe Fluet and JP Giroud and my life was never the same.
One of my premises was that if I did not have someone annoyed with me at all times, I was not investigating the right thing, and was told I might in fact be doing the industry harm. For instance, my interest in failures and exposing stress cracking of HDPE geomembranes. This led to a memorable moment when one geomembrane manufacturer called me a “loose cannon”. This confirmed I was on the right track.
My aim with geosynthetics is to get as many people as possible to understand them and how they can benefit our lives. When testifying in court [I-CORP provided expert witness services] it was an interesting challenge to persuade attorneys to see things your way.
What have been your memorable moments and/or career highlights?
Firstly meeting Joe Fluet and JP and being offered a job by them, then my only slide down a lined greasy slope into grease-covered wastewater (I kept the leak survey meter dry) in India, receiving a Special IGS Award in Singapore, and the best; being awarded IGS Honorary Membership in Seoul.
How have geosynthetics developed over your experience?
In the 1980s the excitement of finding new applications for standard geosynthetic materials was second to none. Then in the late 1990s and early 2000s a malaise seemed to settle in, people even saying we had matured and there was little new to do. Then some people seemed to recognize that there were geomembranes made of different materials to HDPE, that there were even different HDPEs, and that composites could be fabricated with three and seven different layers for special applications. The excitement has built up again.
What is the future for geosynthetics? How do you see it evolving?
The future is very bright, but one thing we must do is learn from every failure that occurs. There is far more to be learned from a failure than from an apparent success, unless the latter is heavily instrumented. One never knows whether success is by a whisker or a reasonable safety factor.
Universities should try to develop Centers of Excellence similar to Kerry Rowe’s group at Queen’s University, but this requires a major champion. There is no shortage of research topics. The IGS technical committees meetings such as those on reinforcement and barriers are an excellent way to go. And we need to remember to listen to what people say they need. We tend to present “our” views in conference papers on what we think people need to know but they may really need to know something else. We need to invert the typical conference session from 95% presentations and 5% questions to 5% broad subject presentation and 95% discussion.
We have had a couple of successful Berlin 1 and 2 workshops appended to IGS conferences. The first was on why we do geomembranes differently in Germany and the United States. The second was determining the remaining service lifetime of a geomembrane. There might be room for a Berlin 3 workshop on PVC geomembranes, HDPE welding, transitioning from slow crack growth to rapid crack propagation stress cracking, etc.
What are the main challenges the industry faces and how do you think they are being tackled?
The main challenges to the industry are to avoid failures, to thoroughly investigate failures when they do occur, much as the National Transportation Safety Board investigates plane crashes, to make contact with, and to educate general contractors (this has always been difficult) and regulators. It is all about education and the avoidance of failures.
The challenges are slowly being attacked. The problem is that there are far more people who need educating than those available to do it. There are many good conferences. Workshops and focus group meetings are being held. One of the best conference series was held by the Geosynthetic Research Institute several years ago. The topics were limited, there was plenty of time for discussions, they were informal, and there was time for social interactions. While the internet allows us to have all kinds of remote no-need-to-be-present meetings there is nothing like one-on-one meetings where body language can be read and where questions can be posed without feeling embarrassed in front of others.
What do you plan to do in your retirement?
I consider myself to have retired at the end of January 31, 2020, but it is a soft, not hard retirement. Although I live in Florida, I will not be playing golf or fishing or skateboarding. One thing I would like to do is help put those who need technical support together with those that can provide that support. I might even write a book on my journey through geosynthetics. One thing I am looking forward to is doing my own thing at my own pace and not at the pace others would like.
Do you have a parting message for the geosynthetics family?
Geosynthetics has been a blast for me and I have met some awesome people. Reach out to them to find the way going forward; support the IGS as much as you can.