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2020 / 2021 Edition

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Nottingham Centre for Pavement Engineering leads the way in product development and technical service

During the last five years or so there has been a revolution in the road-maintenance and asphalt industries in the UK. Major changes have included the progressive move from recipe-based to performance-based specifications; the transfer of risk from road authorities to DBFO contractors and consortia; the introduction of long-life asphalt designs for flexible pavements; an increased focus on low-noise surfacings; and the introduction of the Highways Authorities (HAPAS) for the evaluation of proprietary materials.

The industry has risen to this challenge, particularly in the area of thin asphalt surfacings where the list of proprietary products is now substantial. Indeed, over the last two years these products have virtually replaced hot-rolled asphalt as the UK’s surfacing material of first choice.

In such a rapidly evolving market, it is essential that key organizations invest in product development and technical services in order to remain at the cutting edge of technology, and it was with this in mind that Shell Bitumen and the University of Nottingham entered into discussions some three years ago regarding the joint construction and operation of a new state-of-the-art laboratory to meet both the business needs of the company and the academic aspirations of the University.

These joint aspirations have led to the creation of the £2.5 million Nottingham Centre for Pavement Engineering (NCPE), which was officially opened on 12 September 2001. Unique in the UK and possibly even globally, the new NCPE facility forms the nucleus of the Pavement and Geotechnical Engineering Division at the University of Nottingham – already the largest department of its kind in the UK and among the top three or four in the world – and marks the beginning of a 10-year lease agreement between Shell Bitumen and the School of Civil Engineering.

With its suite of analytical laboratories, asphalt mixing areas and other testing facilities, the NCPE aims to become an internationally renowned centre of excellence in pavement engineering, asphalt technology and highway engineering, building upon the long and distinguished history of pavement engineering at Nottingham which stretches back to 1954, when Shell first awarded a research contract for a study into cracking in asphalt pavements.

Since then Nottingham has taken part in several research contracts, collaborations and strategic partnerships, and has developed a number of innovative experimental facilities for materials and pavement testing, as well as analytically based methods for the design and evaluation of asphalt pavements, many of which are used throughout the highway industry in Europe and have influenced developments worldwide.

Housed in 2,300m2 of modern, purpose-built laboratory space spread over three floors and jointly managed by Shell and the University, the NCPE is able to conduct a wide range of bitumen and asphalt testing and analysis, as well as other pavement engineering research activities, providing support for the extensive research work of the University together with a confidential testing service for Shell.

The University, whose interests in pavement engineering are much broader than just asphalt, will use the centre for testing and academic research into all aspects of pavement and rail track engineering, while Shell Bitumen have centralized all their UK laboratory technical service at the NCPE.

The centre is home to 36 university personnel including six academic staff, 10 research staff, a laboratory manager, six research students, 10 technicians and three secretarial staff. There are also four Shell personnel based at the centre who, in addition to carrying out development activities, will provide an enhanced level of technical service for UK customers.

Although both parties share equipment and technicians, each organization has access to separate quarantine areas. Confidentiality of information and test data between the two parties is ensured by a secure computer laboratory management system, and anonymity of sample source during testing is achieved through coding of projects and samples.

In addition to carrying out technical services for Shell and longer-term research and development for the University, independent third-party testing on a commercial basis is an important part of the NCPE’s activities.

The NCPE offers a comprehensive range of facilities and equipment for testing asphalt mixtures including a pilot-scale pavement test facility which allows full-depth construction investigation. Other major items of equipment include Instron and Mand universal testing systems, five Nottingham Asphalt Testers, wheeltracking apparatus (both standards BS598 and larger non-standard machines), gyratory compactors and a roller compactor for small-scale laboratory trials.

For binder testing, the centre has a fully equipped rheology suite featuring dynamic shear rheometers, bending beam rheometers, a direct tension tester, rotational viscometers, ductility apparatus, Fraass breaking point apparatus, penetrometers and softening-point apparatus.

In addition, the centre is equipped to carry out a range of analytical testing on bitumen including polymer content by infra-red spectroscopy, polymer dispersal by fluorescence microscopy, SARA analysis and asphaltene content. Traditional techniques such as analysis of bituminous materials, including the ignition oven method, and binder recovery by distillation or rotary evaporator are also available.

For further information about the services and facilities available, contact: Nottingham Centre for Pavement Engineering, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD; tel: 0115 846 8444; fax: 0115 846 8445; email: [email protected]

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