The first time artificial grass was used was in the late 1960s for the Houston Astrodome, the first covered sports stadium in the USA. The type of artificial grass used was called Astroturf, after the stadium. The goal was to create a highly functional sports playing field. The main factor was functionality instead of the look or feel of the grass. The field was green, but that was the only resemblance it had to natural grass.
The grass was made from nylon (PA, polyamide) and was not much more than a thick layer of carpeting. Nylon is far from being ideal for a sports field as it has the unpleasant characteristic of causing burns when coming into contact with skin. Of course, baseball players cannot avoid contact with the ground as they often have to slide into base, so it was not a very pleasant experience for them. Another downside of nylon is that it is relatively costly. When you consider the amount needed for a sports field, you can imagine it would be quite the investment.
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In the 1980s, a new type of artificial grass for sports made from polypropylene fibres (PP) and which had a 90% sand infill was launched. It was definitely an improvement, but still not perfect. PP was less expensive than nylon. The sand infill was used to stabilise the playing surface, which creates a more natural ‘ball bounce and roll’ for tennis and hockey. The sand infill also made the artificial grass system cheaper. However, this type of artificial grass also caused problems when coming into contact with skin. The disadvantage of sand is that it can feel like sandpaper on the skin when a player makes a sliding tackle making it unsuitable for sports like football.
At the end of the 1990s, the third generation of artificial grass was developed for field contact sports such as soccer, American football and rugby. The difference with artificial grass pitches dating from the 1980s was that players could make sliding tackles without hurting their skin on these fields. This was mainly thanks to the use of polyethylene (PE) as a raw material for the artificial glass fibres and an infill consisting of granulated rubber instead of sand, or sometimes a layered combination of both.
MORE AND MORE LIKE NATURAL GRASS
In comparison with PP and PA, PE feels slightly softer and it is also more colourfast. The artificial grass fibres were also longer, up to 70 mm, compared with the 12 to 24 mm used for PA and PP playing fields. The functionality of the field, i.e. the possibility of interaction between player and surface, and the ball behaviour on the field, remained a key factor in developing this kind of artificial grass. This third generation artificial grass looks much better and more natural thanks to the longer fibres, compared with the first two types of artificial grass.