The bitumen industry tackles environmental challenges

Source: Total

Today's bitumen industry is having to come to terms with more stringent environmental standards that impact demand. For different reasons, manufacturers, local communities, legislators and end users want us to provide solutions that are more environmentally responsible without sacrificing performance. The Total Ecosolutions label guarantees that the products meet the requirements of current and future markets.

Bitumen — sometimes referred to as asphalt — is the world's oldest-known binder and is derived from crude oil. It can be combined with aggregates to form asphalt mixes for paving roads (90% of the market), and is also used in the construction and manufacturing sectors (10%), for example in waterproof membranes for roofs and for vehicles.

"Total is the leader in Europe with a market share of approximately 24%," notes Gilles Gauthier, Technical & Product Development Manager at Total Bitumen. "Business has leveled off after declining sharply in recent years. We think that the worst is behind us."

Economic growth is the main driver of the market's overall development. To put it another way: no growth, no roads. Logically then, the main expansion opportunities are found in developing countries, especially in Africa, where we have an established presence that allows us to design and deploy tailor-made solutions. "China and Brazil are also potentially strong markets, but less accessible because farther away from our existing hubs," comments Gilles. "That makes Africa our priority focus in the short term."

Innovation spurred by environmental factors

While the bitumen manufacturing process has not changed, significant research and development has been devoted to developing products that more effectively meet the requirements of the sector's many stakeholders. Manufacturers want a higher-performance material that is easier to use. Legislators want a product that is more respectful of the environment. And end users — drivers — want smooth, well-maintained roads for an enjoyable driving experience.

"The challenge is to come up with new solutions for the bitumen market. Total has a long tradition of innovation and we have a plan for the years ahead. In the short term, we're working to bolster our recycling capabilities, in response to our customers' desire to make asphalt mixes using more environmentally responsible processes. In Africa, it's all about the logistics. We have to invent new kinds of packaging to improve the way bitumen is delivered to the worksite."

In mature markets, mostly in northern Europe, legislators are making sure that next-generation bitumen will be longer-lasting, better for the environment and safer for the people who work with it.

An ecosolutions-labeled bitumen

There are real solutions out there, according to Angélique Brunon, Senior Product Engineer, Bitumen at Total Bitumen. "We offer our customers Total Ecosolutions-labeled products that deliver improved performance in terms of durability while also being more environmentally friendly."

In this case, we're talking about the capacity to lower the temperature of the asphalt mix by around 40 degrees Celsius to save on energy and reduce carbon emissions "by 30 percent to 35 percent in the mix phase and 8% across the entire process," comments Angélique. A warm mix also means less fumes and heat on the worksite, improving work conditions in terms of health and safety. Lowering the asphalt mix application temperature by just 10C reduces fumes by 50 percent.

"Total Ecosolutions products like the Styrelf ECO² range have to meet specific requirements concerning improved environmental performance, described in guidelines available on The product claims are audited by an independent third-party organization; we have to provide a detailed data package as part of the verification," says Angélique. "The product is awarded the label if it is more respectful of the environment and human health and safety. That's what makes it 'better energy,'" she adds.

These performances are an increasing draw for our customers, whether to support their own environmental engagement — like the U.K.'s Tarmac, which has made sustainability a cornerstone of its operations — or for regulatory reasons. "In Norway and in northern Europe generally, there are incentives for using more eco-friendly products," notes Angélique. "In France, the Grenelle Environment Forum really set this market in motion."

More about the ECO² bitumen range here

All good reasons to proactively encourage the use of this type of material, which, even if it costs slightly more, reduces the overall cost of the application process. "By lowering the mix temperature, overall energy consumption is also decreased. At the end of the day, the bill is lower for the customer," explains Angelique.

Alongside bitumen for warm mixes, Total also offers a range of reclaimed asphalt pavement that recycles coated aggregates from road materials. More innovations are in the pipeline for the longer term. "We have other 'better energy' ideas, but they're still under wraps," concludes Angélique.

Bitumen or tar?

Bitumen and tar look very similar, but are in fact very different. Bitumen, derived from crude oil, is produced in a refinery. Tar is a by-product obtained when coal is processed at very high temperatures, without oxygen. The process generates aromatic compounds that are harmful to human health. That's why many countries around the world ban the use of tar. Bitumen does not contain these harmful substances.

The Total Ecosolutions Program

Leveraging innovation to serve continuous improvement, the Total Ecosolutions program develops products and services to help our customers shrink their environmental footprint and be smarter, more frugal consumers. Awarded in accordance with the principles set out in the international ISO 14020 and 14021 standards and verified by an independent external auditor, Total Ecosolutions-labeled products and services outperform the market standard in terms of environmental and health impact.

More about othere co-efficient products: Pesticides,an Alternative Solution That Comes From Oil and Lubricants,the Unknown Factor in Energy Efficiency

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