Better Life Asphalt: A Bio-Based Asphalt Binder
Team: Better Life Asphalt
Program: Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
In 2017, the United States of America emitted 6.5 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases, where Carbon Dioxide accounted for the largest percentage (82%) followed by methane (10%), nitrous oxide (6%), and other greenhouse gases (2%).1 Greenhouse gases are gases that reside in the Earth’s atmosphere. They trap heat from the sun that would otherwise escape into space. Although greenhouse gases can help the planet maintain a life-sustaining temperature, advanced solutions to some of society’s previously rudimentary problems lead to global warming. One example is the refining of petroleum oil to create asphalt binder.
On a slightly less of a wide scale, although hot mix asphalt (HMA) pavings can last a number of years, they are susceptible to damage such as fatigue failure from inadequate structural support, bleeding from asphalt binder expanding from filled cracks, and joint reflection cracking from both thermal and moisture changes.2 As a result, the government spends, on average, about $45 billion – of which a large part of it can potentially go towards other initiatives such as medical research – to purchase materials to revitalized publicly funded and damaged roads and pave new roads that are subject to the same susceptibilities mentioned above.3
Our product, Better Life Asphalt, provides a solution to both of the problems mentioned above. Better Life Asphalt is a bio-asphalt binder, meaning that it is not entirely unsustainably created from refined petroleum oil. In fact, a fair portion of it is created from bio-oils from lignin and damar resin from damar trees. As Better Life Asphalt does not solely consist of petroleum oil, it can lower the production temperature of HMA that will decrease paving costs by 20% and reduce greenhouse gas emissions up to 30% with less energy input required. Additionally, our product converges in an inclusion of both lignin and damar resin within the binder because of previous studies that have concluded that lignin in asphalt and damar resin in asphalt binders can greatly increase the stability and long term durability of resulting pavings respectively.
Our product will yield a binder with 20% lignin and up to 10% damar resin – with the rest being bitumen. Our industrial manufacturing process will invite damar resin from Indonesia, which is projected to have an increasing export rate. Lignin and bitumen will be sourced from traditionally made waste streams from hardboard mills. With our product’s potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the durability of paved roads, we estimate a $200 million investment at a 10% interest rate will be doubled by year 7 (starting at year 0) at our company, making our product not only environmentally friendly and pragmatic but also financially sound.
Our product is Better Life Asphalt, which is an asphalt binder composed of lignin and damar resin. Asphalt, which makes up a large percentages of all public and private roads you’ll see in your life – no matter where you go – is a combination of binder, which is kind of like a sticky substance, and aggregate, which are smaller pieces of rocks. And the asphalt that you see on roads is basically a mixture of the two components as you can see from the images here (and for reference, HMA stands for hot mix asphalt, where the two components are mixed together and heated up to create the paving). The binder binds the aggregates together, which when dried, becomes the asphalt that supports our vehicles. Traditional asphalt binder is made from refined oil, which means that its creation is an unsustainable process. Our binder is different from other binders because it is composed of bio-oils from lignin and damar resin – both renewable resources. Additionally, our product utilizes studies that have proven the effectiveness of both lignin and damar resin to increase the long term durability of our product. Our final product is an asphalt binder that will be stored in an insulated silo, where the binder can be picked up and mixed with aggregate to create asphalt ready for paving.
Project pitch of Better Life Asphalt, a novel, multibillion market, bio-based asphalt binder.