The Future of Asphalt Supply: Trends and Innovations to Watch
Asphalt production is a vast industry that is constantly evolving. New technologies are transforming the way companies produce this essential construction material.
Sustainability is one of the most significant issues facing the asphalt industry. Contractors that adapt to greener systems and practices will increase profitability while reducing environmental impact. For example, utilizing warm-mix asphalt reduces energy consumption and emissions.
Recycled Asphalt Pavement (RAP)
Asphalt is America’s most recycled product, used in road construction, driveway overlays, parking lot repair, temporary roads, and other applications. Reclaimed asphalt (RAP) helps to reduce the demand for petroleum-based products and lower overall costs for customers and contractors.
RAP can be milled and processed by asphalt companies to be mixed into a new mix or added to the existing pavement for resurfacing. The process involves pulverization, mixing with tar, various binding agents and materials, and stabilization. It can be done in batch or drum-equipment plants, following the design formulas of the project’s owner.
Some technologies allow for cold recycling, where the pavement is milled and then sent to a plant for manipulation without heating. These are much more efficient and can save on transporting the material.
Like the asphalt suppliers near me, the asphalt industry must mitigate environmental hazards posed by the manufacturing process. ENERGY STAR has been working with asphalt plants to encourage facilities to conduct energy audits and find efficiencies.
The rising highway construction budget in the APAC region will likely reinforce the market growth. The booming automobile industry will likely boost private vehicle ownership and increase road traffic, leading to greater demand for the product.
Rail is also an excellent option for asphalt producers to ship large quantities of the material. Companies like Loup Logistics provide trans-loading capabilities that give producers access to the expansive rail network without investing in tracks. A single rail car can carry the same amount as three trucks, so it’s a cost-effective solution for asphalt producers.
Asphalt binder is a refined product and, as such, is susceptible to the vagaries of fuel prices. This has been exacerbated by the COVID pause, which has left refineries idling or producing less oil than usual.
Fortunately, alternatives, like reclaimed RAP and warm-mix asphalt, allow plant producers to produce the same quality mix with less fuel. Additionally, burners can be configured to combust multiple fuel types, enabling you to switch to the most cost-efficient, eco-friendly fuel.
Sustainability concerns don’t stop with asphalt mix design, however. Many asphalt plants are being pushed today to conduct energy audits to identify areas where they can gain efficiencies and reduce consumption. Some companies are even offering treasure maps to help facilities find these opportunities. These tools help asphalt companies save money, increase productivity, and meet new regulations.
Asphalt plants must have various remote monitoring capabilities to meet customer needs and stay competitive. Remotely controlling a plant will become increasingly crucial as experienced operators retire and new workers join asphalt companies.
The future of asphalt will also include a greater focus on mixture research. The current emphasis on compacted air voids, typically four percent, and controls on the rheological properties of the binder need to be updated and require alternatives.
The president’s recently announced $2 trillion infrastructure package includes $115 billion for repairing roads and bridges, expected to drive demand for asphalt production. Shipping these shipments long distances will require rail, which can be more cost-effective than relying on truck fleets.
Asphalt manufacturers are looking for ways to reduce energy consumption at their plants. While recycling and greener mixtures are a start, the industry is also considering implementing alternative fuels and more efficient production systems.
The COVID-19 pandemic pause in roadway construction has redirected funding to healthcare relief. Still, now that gas consumption is returning to normal, budgets are growing for road construction projects again. This bodes well for asphalt producers.
Asphalt contractors also constantly improve their plants and equipment for efficiency, profitability, and sustainability. Improvements like plant automation, intelligent compaction, GPS-based machine guidance, e-ticketing, and data collection from plant and field for quality assurance are being explored.