May 25, 2022
Is This Still Asphalt?
BY Sandy Lender
The preface for this month’s note is that I do in fact understand the need to placate climate change advocates to continue doing business in today’s world. One example out of the multitude I can offer is that of shareholder advocacy group Majority Action filing an exempt solicitation mid-March for the board to remove Lead Director Ronald Sugar and CEO Michael Wirth from Chevron for failing to do “enough” to curb Scope 3 emissions. This issue will go to press before the vote in late May, but information is archived here: https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/0000093410/000138713122003291/cvx-px14a6g_030822.htm
An example that may hit closer to home for readers is the spate of state legislative actions introducing “buy clean” language that attempts to set unattainable benchmarks for construction materials. Luckily, the asphalt industry has a history of encouraging environmental stewardship and, as an industry, now has a mission of The Road Forward, launched at the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) annual meeting January 2022. As part of The Road Forward climate stewardship mission toward net zero carbon emissions, NAPA listed the third industry goal would involve developing a net zero materials supply chain by 2050, putting an emphasis on upstream Scope 3 emissions, such as those created or emitted by vendors who supply liquid asphalt binder or asphalt binder replacements.
One of the companies offering to replace a portion of liquid binder in asphalt mix designs is Stora Enso, a provider of renewable products in packaging, biomaterials, wooden construction and paper, headquartered in Helsinki. Its biomaterial offering comes from lignin—one of the main building blocks of a tree. It’s an intriguing concept, complete with data to fit into your environmental product declaration (EPD) to support your mix for buy-clean parameters. See the article on page 38.
Separate from the kraft lignin discussion, I’d like to posit: At what percentage of binder replacement does a mix design become a lignin pavement with asphalt additive, rather than an asphalt pavement? Imagine my horror at hearing an asphalt industry member suggesting to a group that we might meet high standards with full binder replacement.
Lately, well-meaning conservationists have suggested any number of additives to “turn roads into the new landfills.” I shudder at that language. But at what percentage of replacement does a mix design become a plastic road merely with asphalt binder additive? I fully agree that ignoring plastic pollution in our world would be irresponsible, but I’m not yet sold on the idea of putting that pollution into mix designs. I’m not a scientist, thus I will reserve judgment and offer a more educated and informed opinion when science is further along in that arena.
For now, I ask if we are, under the guise of lowering the construct of “carbon footprint,” removing asphalt roads in favor of tree, plastic or fad-of-the-moment roads? And should replacing asphalt be the mission the Asphalt Industry undertakes?