Guest blog post by Bas Hennissen , Business Unit Director, Roads & Construction, at Arizona Chemical Company.
To establish a more sustainable, resource efficient and environmentally friendly continent, the European Commission issued a public consultation on its roadmap for a Circular Economy Strategy, which is to be presented in late 2015. The initiative expands the scope of the Commission’s Circular Economy Package by adding sourcing of raw materials, product design, production processes and product lifecycle to its previous emphasis on waste and recycling.
The shift to a more biorenewable-based, resource efficient, waste averse EU has been widely discussed and debated yet, as they say, talk is cheap. Most early circular economy success stories – such as those cited by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation[i] – have primarily been start-up ventures promoting recycling and waste reduction.
What is needed to advance the latest, more comprehensive circular economy goals is progress within established industries that are committed to high impact “eco-innovation.” The pine chemicals industry — a prime example of such an industry — is based on biorenewable raw materials from pine forests, making the industry’s very foundation the first step in the circular economy strategy. One practical application of pine chemicals is a recent, environmentally friendly innovation that advances the construction of thousands of kilometers of asphalt-paved roads.
Rejuvenating Road Infrastructure
More than 90 percent of the EU’s road network has asphalt surfaces. Public investment in highway, street and bridge construction in Europe totals about €80 billion annually. Reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) use in road construction is widespread. In some European countries more than 90 percent of available RAP is used in pavement projects.[ii] The use of RAP reduces reliance on virgin asphalt, thereby avoiding the impact of that manufacturing process and the waste from asphalt pavement that is disposed of in landfills.
We emphasize the amount of available RAP because there has been a consistent challenge preventing greater quantities of RAP to be used in road construction. The issue is that performance declines when more RAP is blended with virgin asphalt. In other words, roads using greater amounts of RAP deteriorate faster, and have more rutting, cracking and water seepage. This is why the percentage of RAP in asphalt mixes has averaged from 20 to 30 percent over the last decade.
But, what if it would be possible to use 70 percent RAP instead of 30 percent – and avoid the extra metric tonnes of asphalt waste? A new biorenewable asphalt mix additive, Arizona Chemical’s SYLVAROAD™ RP1000 Performance Additive, enables such a change by delivering road performance qualities for RAP equal to those of 100 percent virgin asphalt.
The additive’s primary raw material is Crude Tall Oil (CTO), a high value product that is recovered from the Kraft paper and pulp process by biorefineries that practice “cascading use” – a fundamental principle of resource efficiency. The essence of eco-innovation and value creation lies in this opportunity to extract additional value from products and materials by cascading them through the value chain into multiple applications.
In redefining asphalt’s end-of-life cycle criteria the EU can take advantage of the benefits of treating asphalt as a valuable resource right away. In addition to reduced consumption of virgin raw materials (e.g. bitumen, aggregates) and decreased use of landfills, there is a carbon footprint advantage. A 2014 Arthur D. Little Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) found that cradle-to-gate, a road asphalt mix of 30 percent virgin materials and 70 percent RAP containing the SYLVAROAD additive results in a 27 percent reduction in CO2/metric tonne when compared to asphalt made with 100 percent virgin materials.
Using the same additive in a 50 percent RAP mix, there is a cost saving of about €1 million for an 18 kilometer road stretch. Multiply this cost saving across the EU and it will be of much less concern that the European Parliament has observed a reduction in investment in road maintenance by several Member States.[iii] Continuing economic development is another aspect of the circular economy strategy, and biorefineries that process CTO employ more than 3,000 people across the EU, with revenues totaling over €1 billion.
Circular Economy Roadmap in Action
Biorenewable feedstock utilized; thousands of kilometers of asphalt pavement reused; reduced carbon footprint; and millions of Euros saved. This is a circular economy opportunity that is ready here and now to make a huge impact. As the European Commission considers strategies to advance the circular economy, it’s critical for Member States to move quickly – even before official policies are established – to activate large-scale industry eco-innovations.
Of course it is important for start-up enterprises to participate in the circular economy. But Member States also should fully embrace opportunities in longtime, established industries. Some of these long-term players have been creating innovative products that contribute to many EU goals – even without specific encouragement. Furthering these ventures is a road well worth travelling.
[i] Ellen MacArthur Foundation, case studies, http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/case_studies (accessed 23/06/2015)
[iii] European Parliament EU Road Surfaces Report, 2014, page 14; http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2014/529059/IPOL_STU%282014%29529059_EN.pdf