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Tommy Edeskär and Oleg Antzutkin, Luleå University of Technology. View original picture , opens in new tab/window

They hope to solve 30-year old mystery about cold asphalt

Published: 12 October 2016

One of the biggest problems surrounding asphalt handling today are large energy expenditures during the production phase. A team of researchers at Luleå University of Technology now hopes to resolve a 30-year old research mystery and develop cold asphalt for use on a large scale - among other things, they want to halve the energy consumption.

- If we can implement cold asphalt on a large scale, it would alter the construction industry in its foundation. The advantage is that we can reduce the energy consumption during production by 40 percent and carbon emissions by up to 50 percent. The lifespan of the roads would increase. The working environment is improved when workers do not have to handle oil vapors and hot working environments and the recycling potential of cold asphalt is much higher, says Tommy Edeskär, assistant professor at Luleå University of Technology.

It's Tommy Edeskär together with Professor Oleg Antzutkins research group in Chemistry of Interfaces that runs the project. Cold asphalt is a production which mixes rock with bitumen-water emulsion, which is a binding agent to form the asphalt. The conventional approach is to bind the mass with only liquid bitumen, a binding agent based on crude oil residues, which is heated to a high temperature after the distillation of petrol and diesel oil from crude oil.

- The challenge is great. First we need to identify why cold asphalt technology does not work currently and understand where in the production that we can fix the problem. It can be anything from emulsion stability and particle size distribution of aggregates, to surfaces chemical state of the minerals that the ballast consists of, says Oleg Antzutkin, Professor of Chemistry of Interfaces.

That idea of cold asphalt has been discussed in the construction industry since the 1980s. The problem has been that the technology has only worked in specific conditions and with soft coatings. The research team hopes that their solution will cover around 70 percent of the road network.

- We must understand the whole process. We hope to develop a "magic drop" to be added to the emulsion at the right time in the process of solving the problem, but it is far too early to say now, said Oleg Antzutkin.

Now scientists want to scale up the project of two million SEK to a larger research project through Horizon 2020 with more industry partners.

- The interest from industry has been considerable. It is a very attractive technology. Roads and railways are being built in large part by moving soil and rock. There is huge potential for improving efficiency in this type of work. With cold asphalt we reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption in production and do not have to heat up the asphalt. It saves a lot of money for the companies, says Tommy Edeskär, assistant professor at Luleå University of Technology.