The New “Green” Asphalt

Business, Government Jun 30, 2010

Photo illustration of NCAT's test track.

Photo illustration by Jason Adams.

NCAT paves the way to eco-friendly roads

During the recession, a lot of people have been out pounding the pavement, looking for jobs. Dr. Randy West’s job is just pounding the pavement.

He does it because even though you probably don’t think about it very often, the asphalt on our roads is a vital part of your quality of life. It gets you where you want to go. It keeps commerce moving. And Dr. West and his team at the National Center for Asphalt Technology are ensuring that even though asphalt itself is sticky and black, it’s actually a “green” technology.

Dr. West’s team started with just improving asphalt’s development processes. It used to be that if community developers wanted to see how a particular mix would hold up, they just put it on the roads and watched for years to see how it held up.  NCAT didn’t think that was particularly efficient, so they built a test track as a “unique proving ground for new pavement technologies.”  What it means is that we can stress-test pavement design for 3 years instead of 15, and only release formulas that actually work.

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Then the NCAT trained its sights on the pavement laying process itself. They’re experimenting with adding organic materials and using steam bubbles to cool the whole process down, reducing fuel requirements and greenhouse emissions. It’s changing the face of the road — from “hot-mix” processes to a kinder, gentler “warm mix”.  And although the paving industry has been routinely recycling its materials for three decades, NCAT is pushing it to do even better, raising the national average of roads using recycled materials from 12 percent to 25 percent. At Auburn, we’ve already proved it can happen — several sections of the test track use 45 percent to 50 percent reclaimed road materials.

So that long stretch of road you’re driving down may look black, but thanks to Auburn it’s getting greener every day.

Principal Investigator

Dr. Randy West, P.E.

Work Experience:
1988 – 1995 Florida Dept. of Transportation;
1995 – 2003 APAC, Inc.; 2003 – present NCAT
Areas of Special Interest: Asphalt mix design, specifications and test methods, quality assurance, automated testing

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