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EU project aims to develop biojet fuel and a biobased asphalt binder from wood

A forest-derived binder in asphalt production? Possible according to Sweden-based asphalt producer Peab Asfalt and partner in REWOFUEL, a recently launched European research project in which forest residues will be used for the production of aviation fuel. The process separates lignin that Peab Asfalt wants to develop into a new biobased adhesive for future asphalt production.

Lab testing of asphalt at Peab Asfalt. As part of the EU project REWOFUEL, the company will test the use of lignin as a binder in asphalt production (photo courtesy Peab Asfalt).

With EUR 13.9 million in funding from the EU Research Program Horizon 2020, eleven companies from eight EU member countries, including Peab Asfalt AB  are participating in the recently launched REWOFUEL project.

One of Sweden’s largest asphalt producers, Peab Asfalt’s interest is to develop a new biobased adhesive of the by-product lignin, a substance that bonds the cellulosic fibers and contributes to the mechanical strength of the wood. Peab Asfalt’s Innovation Strategist Mats Wendel holds good hopes.

It is a challenge to find working alternatives to the oil-based bitumen that the industry uses today, but the preliminary studies show positive results. Completing a bio-based product would be a big step in the right direction and we believe that up to 25 percent blend could be possible. Lignin’s way of reacting with bitumen can also increase the life span of the asphalt, providing an even more durable product, said Wendel.

Mats Wendel points out that the big climate gain is being achieved by the company through the conversion of its stationary asphalt plants from fossil fuel oil to bio-oil. It has reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 61 percent although production volumes increased. There is also great potential for increased use of recovered asphalt.

Lignin – one of the raw materials extracted in SEKAB’s Biorefinery Demo Plant in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden. SEKAB E-Technology is one of the partners in the REWOFUEL project (photo courtesy SEKAB).

The issue of binders is though more complex –  bitumen makes up about 5 percent of the asphalt, the remainder is crushed rock or recovered concrete.

With our advanced lab equipment and expertise, we have the resources to perform our own tests. We are also close to a practical application when it comes to developing binders with the best function and lowest environmental impact. Through the project, we get further knowledge and access to a sustainable raw material that we believe in a lot, said Mats Wendel.

Peab Asfalt’s sustainability strategy, Karin Bergkvist, also sees major benefits of the EU project.

In the long term, it is not sustainable to be addicted to a product that has its source in crude oil extraction. A renewable bio-residual product that also improves the function of our asphalt is exactly what we are looking for. One strength of the project is that the entire chain is represented and that from the outset it is ensured that by-products are taken and creates value in other processes. The experts who assessed the application also saw the potential; It got 14.5 points out of 15 possible, said Karin Bergkvist.

The project is in line with the EU’s ambition to increase the use of biomass as raw material, primarily in non-food products. The aim is to spread a biorefinery technology for local production around Europe. In Sweden, several projects are currently underway to convert forest raw materials into biofuels. In addition, the Swedish Energy Agency has also allocated SEK 100 million in targeted support to develop sustainable aviation fuel.

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