Similar to building new roads, repairing existing ones is not an environmentally friendly endeavor. One of the main problems is bitumen, a fossil fuel-derived binder that holds asphalt together. A startup in Norway is recycling old roads using a plant-based binder instead, a process that could significantly shrink the carbon footprint of our roads.
The company’s solution involves a futuristic-looking machine, that wouldn't look out of place in a Mad Max movie, called Carbon Crusher. It grinds up the top layer of a damaged road and then uses lignin - a wood-based material that helps plants maintain their firm and woody structure - to bind the crushed material.
Because lignin is a byproduct of the paper industry its use contributes to the method’s sustainability. Additionally, because trees capture CO2 as they grow, including lignin in the process actually sequesters carbon. This shrinks the carbon footprint of road repair so much that the roads essentially become carbon negative.
“We’re making roads that are part of the solution to the climate crisis, not part of the problem,” says cofounder Haakon Brunell. “And it also happens to be a cheaper, more durable way of rehabilitating roads.”
What’s particularly great about the company’s proprietary equipment is that it crushes asphalt and rocks into a fine material that can be reused. This eliminates the need for new material and the associated carbon emissions from its production and transportation. The process is also faster.
The startup is now partnering with others to scale up operations beyond Norway. The ultimate aim is not to build new roads - which would incentivize more driving - but rather to improve existing ones.