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2020 / 2021 Edition

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An Essential Oil For Roads?

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Late last year Colas UK brought its French parent company’s innovative agricultural waste derived asphalt binder to the UK to ride the wave of sustainable construction. MQR chatted to UK business manager Carl Fergusson (pictured right) to find out how it is going and to find out more about the product that has the promise to become an eventual regular in the country’s roads.

While it may not gain a second glance across the Continent, to the conservative construction-related markets of the UK, Vegecol is turning the eye as a relative newcomer. And in a country desperately trying to reframe the business environment to fit into a low CO2 structure, the agricultural waste-derived binder has a growing number of suitors.

Produced by Colas at Vitrolles in southern France, Vegecol is a clear bitumen replacement. While it may look like refined crude, it doesn’t contain a single hydrocarbon from refining oil. And that is not its only selling point.

Colas UK business manager Carl Fergusson: “As well as doing away with the CO2 emissions associated with oil-based products it also demands 40ºC lower heat in the asphalt making process.

“And because it is not hydrocarbon-based it doesn’t degrade when it comes into contact with fuels. Tests in Europe also show it has a greater resistance to fatigue than bitumen offering roads a longer life,” he told MQR.

Tests conducted by Shell on vegetable-based binders also showed these benefits. Trials in Norway even found operators felt fewer fumes were emitted during the asphalt mixing process. However, they did note a different – although not unpleasant – smell.

But, is it cheaper? Fergusson: “Let’s say the cost is comparable to other clear binders on the market.

“But as oil prices continue to rise Vegecol will come more into its own. And as the drive towards sustainable construction continues and manufacturing grows in line with demand then the price will fall. But then what cost do you put on the planet?”

And production is certainly growing. Fergusson says it is doubling year-on-year. In fact, this is an understatement. During 2004 the French site manaufactured 60tonnes of Vegecol. By last year the figure had reached 2,400tonnes.

The number of projects across Europe using the binder reflects the growing production rates. At the end of 2004 there were four sites that has used Vegecol. A year later this had jumped to 60 sites. By 2006 this figured had risen to 350 sites and another 100 projects were added last year.

And the UK is starting to become part of this demand. It started with a simple pilot scheme for coloured asphalt resurfacing footpaths in Jack Cockerill Way in Portsmouth through Colas’s 30year PFI road maintenance contract with the city council.

On the back of this project late last year, Colas has now secured four other major clients across the country set to start in the next couple of months – although Fergusson is remaining tight-lipped about who they are – and the project sizes are growing. There are a further two “significant” sites coming on-line the following year, says Fergusson.

The projects set to start soon include working with industrial and retail developers on laying car parks. In another project Colas is laying an access road. Fergusson feels it is only a matter of time before major and minor roads also become part of the mix.

“We are certainly looking for these opportunities. It is used in major road building across Europe. Increasingly briefs from developers in the UK demand sustainable construction methods so pressure to use products such as Vegecol is growing.

“It performs like bitumen and is mixed using the same process as bitumen, just at a lower temperature. But it doesn’t come with the environmental issues of bitumen. It’s a no-brainer really,” he told MQR.

One hurdle is that standard tests for asphalt demand bitumen-based binders. However, Fergusson says he is finding local authorities being “very open” when it comes to allowing a departure from the normal testing demands.

However, Fergusson says he is happy to take it slowly when it comes to expanding the market share of Vegecol. “Our strategy is to take a measured approach, moving from low-risk projects to others. We feel that time is on our side with Vegecol.

As it is transparent, Vegecol opens itself up to a range of applications with the binder being able to bring out the natural colour of an aggregate or any pigments added – as was the case in the deep red asphalt produced for the Portsmouth pilot project.

And it is not just for roads. In one project in Europe Vegecol was used with aggregate and pigmented white for use in tunnels, maximizing the product’s reflective properties and so cutting down on power use for lights. “It’s a very versatile product really,” says Fergusson.

Fergusson: 0121 561 5561

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