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Harnessing the power of nature to produce bio-bitumen

Bio-bitumen derived from algae could provide an alternative to the energy-intensive process of traditional bitumen production
Bio-bitumen derived from algae could provide an alternative to the energy-intensive process of traditional bitumen production

Tarmac part of collaborative effort exploring algae biomass for lower-carbon road construction

A RESEARCH partnership led by carbon removal company CO2CO Ltd is aiming to revolutionize road construction with a novel, lower-carbon approach to producing bitumen from algae. If successfully scaled up, this pioneering innovation could further enhance the sustainability of road construction.

Tarmac have partnered with CO2CO Ltd, Nanolyse Technologies Ltd, a sustainable materials innovations company, Imperial College London, the University of Sheffield, and other asphalt industry leaders on this research project.


The team is developing a new method that uses algae as a biomass source material to produce ‘bio-bitumen’. This transforms algae biomass into a black, viscous, water-repellent material that resembles petroleum-derived bitumen but offers a significant carbon reduction.

Tarmac will complete live laboratory testing of the material at their technical facilities in Ettingshall. Although at an early stage of development, this innovative, nature-based bitumen could be used for large-volume production of different grades of bio-bitumen that meet UK industry standards if scaled up.

The next phase is to advance product development to higher technology readiness levels, where the team will further develop and validate the product in relevant environments.

Tim Smith, regional technical manager (South East) at Tarmac, said: ‘Tarmac are committed to reducing carbon emissions across all parts of our business, including road building and resurfacing. The need to explore new innovations and alternatives to traditional materials is more important than ever.

‘Early-stage research has shown that the bio-bitumen derived from algae could be a very viable alternative to the energy-intensive process of traditional bitumen production. It provides the same properties but offers significant carbon savings when compared with petroleum-derived bitumen.

‘However, to maximize the environmental benefits, we also need to complete thorough testing and development to ensure these new bio-bitumens are as durable and recyclable as possible, and do not affect the performance of the finished asphalt material.’

Philip Slaughter, chief executive officer of CO2CO Ltd, commented: ‘Discovering and understanding the potential of bio-bitumen has been an exciting journey for everyone involved. Active support from Innovate UK and Tarmac enabled this collaborative research and innovation. The team comprised some of the UK's leading biology, science, engineering, business, and industry experts.

‘Together, they unlocked a novel, sustainable product that could materially reduce carbon emissions in the construction industry. We are thrilled to continue deepening our relationships with academic and industry partners as we continue our work to decarbonize our biosphere.’

Dr Seetharaman Vaidyanathan at the University of Sheffield said: ‘The emergence of a practical application that leverages the ability of algae to sequester carbon dioxide is truly exciting. We anticipate further developments in this field and are proud to contribute to this innovative endeavour.’

Professor Mark Sephton of Imperial College London said: ‘Our bio-bitumen is a sticky material with viscoelastic properties which give rise to unique characteristics that make this material an ideal binder for aggregates in the production of asphalt.’

Dr Imad Ahmed, chief executive officer of Nanolyse Technologies Ltd, added: ‘We’ve only scratched the surface with the potential applications of our bio-bitumen material. Our ability to fine-tune this material’s chemical structure and viscoelastic properties provides sustainable solutions for various industrial applications, including construction, waste management, catalysis, and agriculture.’


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