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It is important to have both incentives and clear requirements to drive developments forwards and to make sure that the industry is making a positive contribution to sustainable development.
The asphalt industry is facing significant challenges, which means that a process of change is underway at all levels. In general terms, operations are being run on a much more industrial scale than before, while there is heightened quality and environmental awareness.
These are areas high on the agenda for Mats Wendel in his role as Innovation Advisor at the Nordic contractor company Peab Asfalt. He confirms that there is still wide variation between actors in the industry, from those who have made marginal changes to those who have achieved major progress.
What improvements have there been, if we look back in time 10-15 years?
“There are a great deal of positive things to highlight. Production capacity has increased, we’re recycling more asphalt than before and the proportion of PMB and warm mix asphalt has also increased.
There’s also more knowledge when it comes to climate impact and health and safety.”
But at the same time Mats Wendel emphasises that there is scope for further improvements. Among other things, he mentions a continued increase in recycling levels.
“It’s not sustainable to use more natural resources than necessary. Technically, we can now reuse all old asphalt, but it needs adaptation for this to actually happen in practice. Every percentage point by which the level of recycling rises is significant, both economically and environmentally.”
Work on sustainable development is a strong driving force for innovations, but here too the level of progress varies, depending on the area of technology. For hot mix asphalt, for example, emissions can be halved. But it is more difficult with surface treatments, as emissions are already low.
The same applies for semi-warm technologies because of the use of mobile plants.
“But there are still far too few demands from clients,” says Mats Wendel.
Yet there is no doubt that stricter environmental requirements will have an impact on the products and methods that will be used in the future.
“Adaptations in regulations enhance the conditions for implementing new solutions in the market. Many contractors are ahead of the requirements, and public procurement is a good tool in helping the industry achieve climate and environmental goals. Challenging requirements and/or incentives are driving developments forwards.”
Society’s rapid technological transformation means that digitalisation, automation and robotisation are in the spotlight, and this will also become evident in the workplace.
“The introduction of heavier trucks onto the roads, for example, demands that we use modern binders adapted for such loads. Self-driving trucks and machines, in which today’s drivers become tomorrow’s operators, are perhaps a little way off. But developments in the field of artificial intelligence, AI, may well move more quickly.”
This means that machines will automatically be able to control adaptations in production and paving, so that demanding work processes disappear. Pavers and rollers will also become self-driving, but with operator monitoring, and traffic control can also be automated to a large extent.
Another high-priority area is the sharing of knowledge.
“The skills supply among all actors and in all professional categories is tremendously important for the future, and there’s a need for active collaboration throughout the whole value chain, including clients and consultants. For Sweden’s part, there’s good reason to consider whether the time has now come to form a national industry association,” concludes Mats Wendel.
After almost 30 years in the profession, Mats Wendel is a familiar name in the Nordic asphalt industry. He joined the Swedish National Road Administration – now the Swedish Transport Administration – in the late 1980s and held a number of senior positions for just over two decades, involving everything from regional road projects to a job as national coordinator for road pavements. He also spent just over a year at Minnesota’s transport agency in the USA. Four years ago Mats made the move from client to supplier and started as Head of Technology at Peab Asfalt. Earlier this year he took up the post of Innovation Advisor in the same company, with a focus on issues including innovations for asphalt road pavements.