Calcined Clay Conditioner: Maximizing the Benefits (Part 2)

WRITTEN BY: Luke Yoder

In Part 1 we talked a little more about benefits of calcined clay conditioner (CCC) as it pertains to best maintenance practices. Part 2 is going to dive a little deeper into providing insight for the SFM when it comes to making sense of what’s available in the market and what to consider from a performance and financial standpoint. We will also break down the myths behind “What’s in the Bag?” 

The production of CCC has always sparked my interest. It has also intrigued me that no matter what the brand name, every bag of CCC sold in this country for sports fields is produced in a relatively small geographical region. Let’s start from the beginningcalcined clay starts out as Montmorillonite Clay that is mined from the earth. It is then screened down to size and heated in a Kiln at a range of 1200-1500 degrees. The Montmorillonite Clay vein runs from the southern tip of Illinois down to the pan handle of Florida. The widest part of this vein is where the mines have been set up. There are only 3 mines/production facilities, which are all within about 30 miles of each other, that produce all of the CCC in this country. Baseball is a very small part of their business as CCC serves many other industries such such as the automotive industry, food & beverage, biofuels, swimming pools, paints, plastics, kitty litter, and the Ag industry.  

For the most part, there have been 4-5 different brands of CCC available to the SFM. Some of these are private labeled, some brands are fairly new to the market, and others have been around for decades. Those that have been in the market for a long time have been marketed well and therefor are typically all that comes to mind as an option for a trustworthy source, kind of like Kleenex. These have been marketed on name brand, durability, bulk density, color, gradation, and their ability to absorb water. Some SFM’s say they are all similar enough that only price matters, others shop on loyalty or name brand comfort, some buy based on color, and some buy what they feel is the cleanest gradation. When I was at the Padres, I mainly bought based on relationships and gradation. While the consistency was important to me it was not until around 2010 that the importance of durability got my attention. 

How do you measure durability?

Besides a simple observation of how CCC holds up on your surface, some have measured durability off what may be called “The Floor Test.” This is simply dumping some CCC on a hard surface, adding water, and then taking your foot and the weight of your body to grind back and forth to see how much breaks down. While this may have provided some insight, it is not based on science. Up until 2019, there had only been one scientifically based test advertised to the SFM to measure the durability of CCC. This is the Sulfate Soundness test or the American Standard Testing Measurement (ASTM) C88. This test method simply immerses the CCC into a sodium or magnesium sulfate solution, followed by oven drying, and then measures the loss of the product. The results of this test can state that their product only has 3% degradation over a 20-year period! Sounds pretty good right? This test is relevant to how CCC holds up over time in a rootzone where it is undisturbed for the most part, but it does not simulate what CCC goes through on an infield surface where it is pounded by players spikes, pummeled by stiff 1 mesh steel drag mats, nail boarded, and smashed by a heavy roller. In late 2018 we searched for a new test that would simulate the conditions of CCC on an infield surface. The test we found that was the most relevant is called the Micro Deval ASTM D7428. This test measures the abrasion resistance and durability of the CCC by placing it in a stainless-steel container, in the presence of water, with steel shot balls. The steel balls pulverize and grind the CCC in the water-based solution. At the end of the test the percent loss is reported. It was to my surprise that not all CCC are the same. When we initially ran these tests, I did not expect to see a substantial difference amongst the 3 suppliers. I was mistaken. See the test results below:

Based on the ASTM D7428 test results ProSlide has >50% less breakdown than Company A and Company B. 

What benefits can this provide for the end user?

After your initial application at 1/8” to start the season, there is less product needed for repeat applications to maintain that even layer. This translates into less time opening bags and smoothing out the CCC, less product needed throughout the season, and just as important, reduced contamination from the breakdown of CCC. Of course, the product lasting longer and using less makes sense, but what is contamination and how can the breakdown of CCC have a negative impact on your infield surface? When CCC breaks down it eventually becomes a powder that resembles silt. When this builds up in the top ½” of your infield surface, it will compromise the playability and consistency. After watering your infield or after a rain it starts to become mushy on your top surface. It will also dry out quicker and when it does will break apart or chip out more than it used to before the contamination of CCC. By implementing a product into your program that has superior durability the end user is able to postpone the detriments of contamination until the season has come to an end. At that point, prior to a Laser Grade touch up, the top ¼” is typically taken off to remove the CCC layer and to get more life out of your surface moving forward. For those that have made the investment in a DuraEdge Engineered Infield surface, it makes even more sense to protect that investment by reducing the contamination rate and extend the longevity of your surface.  

In terms of moisture retention and bulk density, they are all very similar across the board. Some suppliers sell on bulk density claiming they have more in the bag, but according to the data you saw above, it is insignificant and there is simply no need to get lost in the weeds on that factor.

What Gradation is best for you and your Infield?

No doubt there are many different options in terms of gradation. If you are at the lower levels of the game, then I would lean towards the coarser products because of price point and longevity of the product. Keeping in mind that eventually all CCC products break down, if you start with a coarser particle, when it initially breaks down it will take longer to get to that silt size or powder form. If you choose to present on more of a professional level and budget comes into play, then the product that makes sense is ProSlide Play Ball or Company A. If your budget allows you to muster up an extra $1 per bag, then you can get into the cleanest gradations the market has to offer. This would be ProSlide Professional, ProSlide Platinum, or Company B. According to the test below you can see which products offer the tightest gradations in the market. 

Remember: Not all Dirt is Created Equal. Take the time to educate yourself on what makes the most sense for your facility. We’re always here to help if you’d like to ask any specific questions that relate to your maintenance program and field operations.  

Contact Luke directly:

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