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Can we soon use asphalt on a large scale on a vegetable basis? The construction of test lanes with “bioasphalt” in the Netherlands should provide the necessary knowledge to start applying this technology on a large scale. The fossil constituent of asphalt, bitumen, is replaced by lignin, an important constituent of plants and trees. As a result, road construction is becoming greener, biogenic carbon can be stored in roads for a long time and we are becoming a little less dependent on petroleum again. The pilot project, under the name CHAPLIN-XL, will receive a substantial subsidy from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency.

Large-scale pilot project
CHAPLIN stands for Collaboration in aspHalt Applications with LIgniN: a consortium that wants to contribute to the greening of road construction. The lignin for this project is partly made in the Netherlands by chemical company Avantium. CHAPLIN-XL’s asphalt producing partners will improve the processes in their asphalt plants, enabling the technology of lignin-based asphalt to be scaled up to TRL 6/7. In addition to conventional lignin production, recycled asphalt in combination with lignin will also be processed in the test strips. Different compositions are used in various layers of the road surface. These variants are then extensively tested on health and safety and environmental aspects. Extensive life cycle analyzes will map out environmental performance and climate gains across the entire chain. The techno-economic feasibility is also analyzed.

Investment in greening road construction
Asphalt plants need to be converted for the project and a minimum of four test strips will be laid, containing at least 10 tons of lignin. A costly investment, certainly also due to the necessary research and development work. That is why a subsidy from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO.nl) was required to start with CHAPLIN-XL. RVO stimulates Sustainable, Agricultural, Innovative and International entrepreneurship. The CHAPLIN program fits seamlessly within their objectives. RVO therefore signed a 1.5 million euro subsidy; the consortium surrounding the CHAPLIN program is investing the remaining more than 2 million euros.

Test results expected at the end of 2020
There is a great deal of interest in biobased asphalt at home and abroad. Martin Junginger, professor of Biobased Economy at Utrecht University and project coordinator of CHAPLIN XL: “The opportunities offered by bio-asphalt are recognized nationally and internationally. Because the Netherlands is at the forefront, road builders and managers are eagerly awaiting our test results. In order to be able to use lignin on a large scale in the future, it is necessary that road builders can provide financial and technical justifications for tenders. In addition, it is important to gain a good insight into the overall climate and environmental performance of asphalt on a lignin basis. We will be collecting an important part of the information for this in the coming months. ”

Chain-wide collaboration
The fact that the Netherlands is at the forefront of making road construction more sustainable is partly due to the unique collaboration of partners along the entire value chain, supported by research and technology parties. Rijkswaterstaat, provinces and municipalities are strongly involved as road authorities. Joop Groen, initiator and program leader from the Circular Biobased Delta foundation: “In this specific project, Utrecht University (UU), Asphalt Knowledge Center (AKC), Avantium Chemicals BV. (AVT), Circular Biobased Delta (CBBD), H4A, Roelofs Wegenbouw bv, Wageningen Food and Biobased Research (WFBR) involved. CHAPLIN-XL, however, boosts collaboration within the entire CHAPLIN consortium, including with the other partners. It gives an impulse to the development of biobased asphalt and we are going to immediately reduce CO2 in the test phase.