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Lignin-based asphalt to be tested in Quesnel

Bitumen, a traditional binder in asphalt, will be replaced by lignin
The City of Quesnel is taking part in a paving experiment using lignin on Neighbour Road. (Rebecca Dyok photo — Quesnel Observer)

An asphalted road in Quesnel is going green with the help of a by-product of the forest industry through a research partnership with FPInnovations.

Next week, the City of Quesnel will be the first location in B.C. to trial a new lignin-based asphalt on Neighbour Road in South Quesnel.

Bitumen, a form of petroleum, is the traditional binder in asphalt but can be replaced by lignin, known as “natural wood glue” binding together the cellulose fibre in plants.

According to a news release, using lignin in asphalt may result in a greener, more environmentally-friendly alternative to bitumen.

In recent years, environmental considerations related to the use of petroleum-based products have led to exploring greener options for reducing the carbon footprint of asphalt roads. Additionally, pavement degradation accelerated by higher traffic and increasing cycles of freeze and thaws due to climate change has directly impacted municipalities’ paving budgets.

Read More: Canadian forestry researchers converge in Quesnel

Similar trials spearheaded by FPInnovations have taken place in Alberta and Ontario over the past two years, with preliminary results indicating that lignin-based asphalt improves the longevity of the asphalt and allows for a substantial reduction of the carbon footprint compared to its fossil-based counterparts.

In Quesnel, the project will see a 10 per cent replacement of bitumen with lignin from West Fraser’s Hinton Pulp in Hinton, Alta. Quesnel Paving will mix dry powder lignin (the consistency of cinnamon) into the asphalt before paving and then apply it in the standard method.

Chris Coben, the city’s director of infrastructure and capital works, said the lignin modified asphalt test section will cover approximately 100 metres on Neighbour Road.

Conventional asphalt is also included in the $166,000 widening and paving project, which is anticipated to be completed in the coming days. There were no increased costs to using lignin, a by-product of the pulp and paper industry.

“This is a great opportunity for Quesnel to partner with a not-for-profit company to find innovative ways to reduce our carbon footprint, support the forest industry and improve our roads in the process,” stated mayor Bob Simpson.

Once complete, the lignin-based test site will be analyzed over the years on performance, techno-economic feasibility and environmental benefits through a life cycle assessment.

“This is an important opportunity for local use of innovative materials from the forest industry,” said Erin Robinson, Forestry Initiatives Manager for the City of Quesnel. “If this trial is successful and meets the City’s asphalt performance specifications, there will be long-term economic and environmental benefits in utilizing the lignin-based asphalt in other city projects in the future.”

The Observer has reached out to FPInnovations for further comment.

Read More: Quesnel council approves bids for airport paving, municipal campground projects

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