Bitumen and Sustainability
As the importance of reducing contributors to climate change and helping create a more sustainable future continue to rise, sustainability has never been higher on the agenda of corporations, industries and society in general.
In the bitumen industry, we have known for many years that bitumen is a sustainable construction material with inherent durability and re-usability properties that offer material benefits for developing solutions to climate change challenges and mobility issues. However, that same level of understanding about bitumen’s sustainable credentials is not as well known outside of the industry and this is something we need to address.
Eurobitume and Sustainability
Sustainability is a key focus within Eurobitume’s mission and in 2019 Eurobitume created the Bitumen Sustainability Steering Group (BSSG) to add value to the bitumen industry by bringing together the expertise and experience of Eurobitume members, coordinating sustainability-related tasks across multi disciplines and challenges, and providing crucial steering, direction, focus and understanding in areas such as:
- Circularity / The circular economy
- Life-cycle assessments
- Carbon foot-printing
- The use of secondary / waste materials in bitumen – such as tyre crumbs, plastics and industrial/household waste - for applications including roads and roofing
- The sustainability benefits of bitumen
- Bitumen’s role in tomorrow’s society
To achieve all of this, the BSSG is supported by two specialist Task Forces: the first Task Force (TF) formed was Secondary Materials in bitumen (TF Secondary Materials) and this was followed by a second Task Force to evaluate the Environmental Impact and Life Cycle Assessment of bitumen (TF EI&LCA).
TF Secondary Materials has the clear goal of ensuring that initiatives aimed at increasing circularity through the use of secondary materials in bitumen consider all aspects – from preparation and performance to environment and health (see diagram below). These considerations should be based on sound science that looks at the overall net benefits to society across the entire bituminous product lifecycle and within the industry using it.
From a technical perspective, any secondary material should maintain or improve the performance of the final product. In terms of HSE, there should be no negative influence on HSE. And for sustainability, using the secondary material should positively contribute to the industry’s overall ambitions for bitumen’s environmental footprint
The TF successfully delivered a set of internal guidance documents for Eurobitume members, which members only can access from the Eurobitume intranet site here
TF EI&LCA aims to identify best practice and relevant methodologies for assessing the impact of bitumen throughout its whole application life, including re-use or recycling, as only a whole of life assessment provides a complete picture of a product’s overall impact on the environment. This approach is known as ‘cradle to grave’, rather than ‘cradle to gate’ approach used in the current LCI.
As well as providing a platform, through the BSSG, for exchanges between industry experts on sustainability and related guidance to Eurobitume member companies, Eurobitume produced a ‘Bitumen and Sustainability - at a glance’ introductory fact sheet that can be downloaded from the Eurobitume website here.
This document summarises the environmental context for Eurobitume’s enhanced focus upon sustainability, including the EU’s Green Deal and Climate Neutral by 2050 target, and under the How heading illustrates how serious the bitumen industry is about reducing the impact of climate change and helping create a sustainable future.
A positive outlook for bitumen in tomorrow’s world
With the constantly changing demands of the world, it is clear there will continue to be an important role for bitumen to play. It is a sustainable construction material, has a limited climate impact in its use/service phase (as it is not burned) and can be re-used. In fact, in its main application as an asphalt binder it is 100% re-usable.
The bitumen industry has an established track record and ongoing focus on innovation, which has enabled products to continually adapt and offer valuable solutions to dynamic end-use requirements.
Through the BSSG and its two task forces, Eurobitume is helping its members navigate their way through this important and evolving landscape by bringing together bitumen sustainability expertise, coordinating sustainability-related tasks and providing crucial steering, direction, focus and understanding.
Bitumen has been used in infrastructure construction for thousands of years1, originally as natural bitumen but now as refined bitumen, and will continue to be an important construction product for many years to come.
Refined bitumen is a versatile material that makes a positive contribution towards sustainability and the bitumen industry is always innovating. These are very positive messages that can be shared with a wider audience.
1Bitumen was used as an adhesive in construction over 3,000 years ago
Durability and Circularity are two of the key pillars of the bitumen and sustainability story.
Durability is a critical tool for reducing the environmental impact of a material. Bitumen’s excellent inherent durability properties enable the products in which it is used to have long service lives. When it comes to a longer service life for an asphalt road pavement, this means fewer maintenance interventions and a lower climate impact over its lifetime.
In some cases, the application’s service life can be extended by the addition of modifiers, such as polymers or other additives.
The responsible use of materials is a key component in building a more sustainable future and here bitumen plays an important role. In its most common application, as a binder in asphalt road pavements, bitumen is 100% re-useable