A Sustainable Future for Our Roads?

What a Load of Crap. Researchers have found a way to refine pig excrement into a material that could someday replace the petroleum-based binders used in asphalt.

In the early 1900s, immigrants believed the roads in America would be paved with gold. Today, researchers believe that within a few years the roads will be paved with something entirely different – pig excrement.

“If this works out, it’s a win-win situation for everyone,” Karlton Krause, a hog producer from northern Iowa, was quoted by the Post-Dispatch as saying. “For farmers, it produces revenue. And at the same time, it helps clean the environment. We’re taking a waste product and finding a value-added purpose for it.”

Don’t worry, they are not just planning on paving the roads with pig poop and letting it harden in the sun, there is a scientific process behind refining the excrement before it makes it to the road. Researchers at North Carolina Agriculture & Technical State University’s (NCA&TSU) Sustainable Infrastructure Materials Laboratory, with support from the National Science Foundation, have worked for more than four years to find a way to use thermochemical liquefaction to create a greener binding material derived from porcine defecation, aka pig poop. The process, which has been fine-tuned by Dr. Elham “Ellie” Fini, includes a combination of heat, anoxic water solution and porcine excrement to create a renewable bio-oil that would only cost 56 cents per gallon to produce.

Currently, the go-to binder for roads in the U.S. is petroleum, which costs roughly $2 a gallon and is not as easily renewable as its naturally derived competition. Not only does this breakthrough stand to save money as a cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to petroleum-based binders, it could also throw a life preserver to hog farmers currently up to their eyeballs in pig manure.

North Carolina in particular has had a long-time proble mwith the management and disposal of hog manure. While other parts of the country can reuse the manure to fertilize their crops up to twice a year, North Carolina has far fewer crops, forcing hog farmers to dispose of the manure in pits and lagoons. That manure pile up is more than just an eye sore – it‘s a burden on the environment. The odors from the pits cause environmental pollution and the untreated waste can often contaminate groundwater.

Pig manure works surprisingly well as a binder becauseit’s full of oils similar to those found in genuine petroleum. After using the product in an asphalt mixture and simulating thousands of trucks passing over it, researchers found that the material would be able to pass various Department of Transportation (DOT) specs. According to Fini, the easily renewable material can work with a higher percentage of recycled asphalt than traditional petroleum basedbinders. It can also reduce the CO2 emissions ofconstruction operations and recent testing shows that itcan hold up well in cold weather without ruts or cracks when the temperature drops.

Some may imagine the tradeo ff for this innovative new binding agent would be cities across America stinking tohigh heaven. However, the odorous properties are actually completely removed during the filtration process. Even better, what is left over after the filtration process can still be used as a fertilizer for farmers.

It seems that this new discovery stands to benefit almosteveryone, unless, of course, you are in the business of selling petroleum. Nonetheless, that is the cost of innovation. Once a better alternative is found, something else has to fall to the wayside to usher in a new era. The bio-oil has already been approved by the U.S. DOT and is currently being tested on a stretch of road outside Interstate 44 in St. Louis, Missouri. According to the Missouri DOT, the road shows no signs of deterioration and appears to be performing well after having been in place for a year. This bodes well for a more sustainable and cost-effective future for our road ways and the discovery stands to make the Environmental Protection Agency happier than pigs in….

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