Talking point: Road infrastructure in North-Western Europe

Even though many successful road projects have been completed in Western Europe in recent years, the durability and availability of the road infrastructure needs to be improved.

“The major challenges of the future include the regional availability of bitumen, price developments and just-in-time logistics”

In addition to major projects that involve the upgrading and new construction of roads and motorways, more and more money is flowing into the expansion and renovation of existing infrastructures. In this regard, it is important that the asphalt industry focuses not only on the reuse of old asphalt, but also more on issues such as monitoring air pollution, further energy-saving measures and on the threshold limit value (TLV) when paving asphalt.

In order to comply with future developments, such as new environmental and industrial safety legislation, the asphalt industry must deal not only with its own production and paving processes, but also with new or adapted machine technology and the use of additives for bitumen and asphalt. Research in these areas has been ongoing for several years, and some solutions are already available.

As a purchasing organisation, BHG is primarily responsible for supplying STRABAG’s own asphalt mixing plants with bitumen, additives and energy. The major challenges that we face in the future include the regional availability of bitumen, price developments and just-in-time logistics. These challenges are not new, we have been facing them for many years. What is new is that the environment for our suppliers who have to deal with similar issues such as the reduction of CO2 emissions and CO2 neutrality will change hugely in the future.

We must now wait and see how the objectives of the individual companies will change over the next few years, and how they will meet these new challenges, which include refinery closures, investments in existing refineries that are changing their product range and the ratings of their own products for sale to end users.

Peter Pfersdorf
Purchasing Manager, BHG Bitumenhandelsgesellschaft mbH

“We must jointly make efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”

The asphalt industry in the North-Western part of Europe has not been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic to the same extent as many other industries. Even if the pandemic has caused a number of restrictions, it has on the whole been possible for road works to proceed according to plan. But that doesn’t mean there are no challenges!

One of the biggest global challenges is the climate issue, where we must jointly make efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One way is to reduce the production and paving temperatures, thereby also improving the work environment for asphalt workers.

Under the umbrella of our concept ReSolution we already have a range of products that support our customers’ sustainability efforts. This includes products that allow for reducing temperatures, reinforcing durability and enable higher percentages of RAP to be used in asphalt mixtures.

With our Harburg refinery, our depot in Szczecin and through our partners in Germany, we are strategically placed to support customers in the North-Western part of Continental Europe within both the paving and industrial segments. We supply our customers in these markets with not only a wide range of specialty bitumen grades with consistent characteristics, but also high-performance PMBs.

Looking ahead, we foresee new products that offer even more benefits when it comes to extending useful life, enabling reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and facilitating further increased reuse. Nynas, in our role as the bitumen specialist, is well prepared to continue to support this development.

Carsten Meyer
Sales Manager, Nynas Bitumen Western Europe

“The complex interactions between the different aspects of sustainability challenge the road construction industry”

The focus of road infrastructure development in Europe in recent years has been on maintaining and improving the existing network. Some of these measures require major interventions, especially in urban areas. One example is the King Willem Alexander Tunnel near Maastricht, the Netherlands. Using modern digital planning methods and construction processes, a double-deck tunnel was realised while maintaining traffic, in extremely confined spatial situations and in a relatively short time. Another example is the A1 in Poland, which forms part of the pan-European project known as the 10 Helsinki Corridors. The construction of this highway illustrates how modern road transport infrastructures can be reconciled with the issues of sustainability, economic efficiency and both ecological and social concerns.

Even though these projects are excellent examples of the successful development of road infrastructure, there are still many deficits. Excessively long planning, approval and construction times, as well as increases in construction costs are problems that must be solved. Furthermore, the durability and availability of the road infrastructure needs to be improved.

“Everything depends on everything,” as the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt once said. And that is what makes the path towards climate neutrality for the road infrastructure so complicated. For instance, the use of low-temperature asphalt has positive environmental effects, but can also result in a shorter service life for pavements, and consequently an increase in maintenance. Intensive research is currently being conducted into sustainable solutions to this conflict.

Many more examples could be given to illustrate the complex interactions between the different aspects of sustainability that challenge the road construction industry. In my opinion, for any major project, these sustainability factors should be analysed separately. To do this, we need formalised, objective and practicable methods of sustainability assessment. And we need the data. Administration and research must develop these methods together with industry. Policy- makers need to establish clear requirements against which the sustainability of individual projects can be assessed. In this way, we will find balanced solutions.

Markus Oeser
Professor at Aachen University & President of the German Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt)

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