Biomass is organic material that comes from living organisms, such as plants. It offers enormous potential as a substitute for petroleum derived bitumen for road surfacing - in Aotearoa New Zealand and internationally.
WSP’s five-year research programme – titled ‘sustainable biomass-derived materials to replace bitumen for transport infrastructure’ - will see chemists and materials researchers investigate new ways of converting woody biomass into a stable, permanent, and recyclable bitumen alternative.
Led by Principal Investigator Philip Herrington from WSP Research, programme collaborators include scientists, engineers and advisors from Ngāi Tūhoe, the University of Auckland, Crown Research Institute Scion, and Nottingham University.
New Zealand uses about 160,000 tonnes of bitumen each year. Bitumen is extracted from crude oil, a fossil fuel. It’s a vital ingredient in road construction, but its production has a significant carbon footprint. Biomass, on the other hand, is abundant, renewable, and environmentally friendly. It can be used as a binder to replace standard road materials, or as a reinforcing agent for bitumen.
WSP National Research Manager Wendy Turvey says the funding of research into biomass for roading highlights its significance in reducing the carbon impact of traditional road surfaces, and in paving the way towards a sustainable, low-carbon future.
“This programme directly contributes to a low-emissions economy through sequestration of biomass carbon by ‘storing’ it in the road – potentially 300,000 tonnes per annum, equivalent to 0.5 percent of New Zealand’s net CO2e emissions.
“We thank MBIE for funding this important work. Investigating how biomass can be used in New Zealand road construction is a critical first step in reducing the environmental footprint of the nation’s road surfaces and meeting the country’s roading supply security needs.
“We’re looking forward to getting our research underway and providing the technical evidence to determine how effective biomass-based binders can be in New Zealand’s roading context.”
The research programme, including much of the materials analysis, development, prototyping, and testing, will be led from WSP’s dedicated research and innovation facility in Petone, Wellington.