Morgan Asphalt Invests in Eco-Friendly Asphalt Plant
Tooele County, located less than 20 miles west of Salt Lake City, is among the fastest growing counties in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s the county where Spencer Parkinson, manager of business development at Morgan Asphalt, Salt Lake City, grew up.
“My dad could commute to Salt Lake City in 25 to 30 minutes,” Parkinson recalled, “which was often faster than some people who lived just outside the city limits.” In addition to an easy commute on I-80, Tooele County also offers room for growth that is in short supply in more developed areas of the Wasatch Front.
The Wasatch Front, a term used to describe the metropolitan region running along the front of the Wasatch Mountain Range, is home to roughly 80 percent of Utah’s total population.
Utah’s population is projected to swell from 3 million in 2015 to nearly 6 million in 2065, according to the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
The rapid growth of the region itself closely mirrors that of Morgan Asphalt. Morgan Asphalt was founded in 1996 by Thom Morgan, who still serves as the company’s CEO. Thom’s son, Matt Morgan, is the company’s president.
Today, the company employs more than 200 people during peak season and has five mainline paving crews, one milling crew, ten grading crews, ten excavation crews and three utility crews. Morgan Asphalt primarily serves the large residential and commercial market.
“The question that arose was, ‘At what point does it make sense to supply our own asphalt, versus buying it from other producers?’” Parkinson said. When they began speaking with plant manufacturers, the general consensus was installing more than 150,000 tons per year was the tipping point. “We were well beyond that point,” Parkinson said, installing more than 300,000 tons each year for the last few years.
The company began working with Gencor Industries, Orlando, to establish its first asphalt plant, located in Magna, Utah. Their 400-TPH Gencor drum plant officially opened June 14, 2019.
“Morgan Asphalt is a company that is not afraid to take risks when it comes to their company growth and competition,” said Reed Ryan, executive director for the Utah Asphalt Pavement Association (UAPA). “It has been great to see them take ownership of their own journey as they continue to compete in a very tough and tight market here in Utah.”
Parkinson said having its own plant has been a game changer for the company. “In Utah, there’s a huge gap between the big suppliers and people like us,” he said. “Putting in our own plant has helped us move up the chain a bit and position ourselves in a way that makes us much more competitive.”
Going Green with Gencor
“The state-of-the-art equipment we invested in makes our plant one of the cleanest and most environmentally friendly hot-mix asphalt plants in the state,” Parkinson said. “Air quality is a big concern for people living here.”
According to the American Lung Association’s 2019 State of the Air report, the Wasatch Front is ranked as the 14th most polluted metropolitan area in the country.
“Even though we are considered a rural western state by many people, air quality is a unique challenge in Utah because the large majority of the state’s population is centered along the Wasatch Front,” Ryan said. “This entire stretch of cities is also bound on both sides (for the most part) by major geographical features (mountains & the Great Salt Lake) which force Utah into being, in reality, the eighth most urbanized state in the Union.”
Due to the natural geographic features, this heavily populated area experiences temperature inversions where cold air is trapped in the valley, along with particulate matter. According to Ryan, UAPA’s members have responded to these concerns, with many members introducing state-of-the-art hot plant technologies, using cleaner fuel sources to power their plants, working with commercial aggregate crushing and conveying equipment vendors to innovate methods of mining and stockpiling their virgin and RAP aggregates, and by building strong working relationships with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, including the Utah Division of Air Quality.
Morgan Asphalt now serves on UAPA’s board of directors as a producer member.
“Utahans see pollution as a threat to their health and their families’ well being,” Parkinson said. “The last thing people want to see is smoke belching out into the air. We’re members of the community—we live here, too—and we’re committed to doing what’s best for our community.”
According to Parkinson, Morgan’s plant is the first and only HMA plant in Utah to implement ultra low NOx (nitrous oxide) burner technology. “The ultra low NOx burner technology results in 86 percent lower NOx emissions than the industry average and 46 percent lower than the nearest competing HMA plant in the state,” Parkinson said about the performance of Morgan’s Equinox combustion system from Gencor.
They also purchased Gencor’s “Green Machine”—the Ultrafoam GX2—for warm-mix asphalt (WMA) production. It is designed to inject steam into the foaming process using only the energy of the pump or head supplying the liquid asphalt cement (AC) and water. “The Green Machine allows us to batch asphalt at a lower temperature, using less natural gas to heat the material,” Parkinson said.
Morgan Asphalt also invested in microdenier bags for their baghouse. Microdenier fibers are designed to provide high-efficiency filtration, capturing more dust than other fabrics.
“If you drive by our plant today, you can’t even tell it’s running,” Parkinson said. “Just yesterday, someone asked me when our plant would be up and running. When I told them we already were, he said it didn’t look like it.”
The plant is also equipped to use recycled asphalt pavement (RAP), and has a horizontal shaft impact crusher, with associated screening equipment, on site for crushing and screening RAP from KPI-JCI and Astec Mobile Screens, Yankton, South Dakota. On average, Morgan uses 15 to 25 percent RAP in its mixes.
In addition to being forward-thinking from an environmental perspective, Morgan Asphalt also planned ahead for maximum efficiency. Although they only expected to need four silos in the near future, the company went ahead and invested in the six silos they anticipate needing.
“We felt the need to invest in the kind of state-of-the-art equipment Gencor offers,” Parkinson said. “The staff at Gencor has been so supportive. They’ve gone above and beyond to get us up and running.”
The company also invested in an inventory management system custom-developed for their plant by Superior Industries, Morris, Minnesota. “The system allows us to more efficiently truck in and dump the aggregates we need to make asphalt in one location of the plant and then sort them to their appropriate sections of the plant,” Parkinson said.
Bright Futures out West
Before the company could invest in its asphalt plant, they had to establish an aggregate source for the plant. In 2017, they acquired a gravel pit in Grantsville, Utah. “Once that was in place, we could proceed with establishing our own hot mix plant.”
Morgan Asphalt then purchased property for its plant northwest of Salt Lake Valley and sought the appropriate permits.
“The Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Salt Lake County and the Army Corp. of Engineers were really helpful and supportive,” Parkinson said about the plant permitting process, adding that he believes the permitting process was expedited by Morgan Asphalt’s investment in environmentally friendly equipment.
Morgan Asphalt was lucky to be able to staff its new plant with experienced employees. “We didn’t actively pursue anyone, but once word got out that we were putting in our own plant, quite a few people came forward to work with us,” Parkinson said. “I think the ones we hired are among the best in the state and their experience was integral to getting our new plant off the ground.”
Morgan Asphalt also established its own lab for quality control/quality assurance testing. They worked with Terracon, Olathe, Kansas, and CMT Engineering, West Valley, Utah, for their mix designs. In 2019, they produced standard APWA mixes, half-inch PG58-28 and PG64-22 mixes with 15 to 50 percent RAP. This accounts for roughly 90 percent of the mix required by Morgan Asphalt’s own paving crews.
“Since our plant is fairly new, we’re still getting our feet under us,” Parkinson said. “This is a new area for us and we knew there would be bumps and bruises along the way, but things have gone way better than expected and we know they will only continue to improve, moving forward.”
The company is already looking to sell more mix to outside sources. Parkinson said the location of Morgan Asphalt’s plant, in an area experiencing rapid growth and with easy access to both Highway 201 and I-80, should assist them in that goal. Three of Utah’s four main growth areas are right in the neighborhood of Morgan Asphalt’s new plant.
In addition to residential growth, the area is also ripe for commercial growth. The Utah Inland Port Authority is working to establish a dry port on 16,000 acres of land northwest of Salt Lake City. A dry port, also known as an inland port, is a type of trade hub relying on air, truck and train transportation for transshipment of goods from seaports to inland destinations. According to the Utah Inland Port Authority, the area near Salt Lake City is ideal for this type of development due to its location at the intersection of two interstate freeways, major national railways and an international airport.
Morgan’s own asphalt plant was integral both to the company’s growth and to meet emerging demands in the area. “We were maxed out,” Parkinson said. “Having our own plant allows us to be more competitive than we’ve been in the past and it helps secure the long term viability of the company and our future success.”