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Asphalt Paving Contractors Make Effort to 'Go Green'

New warm mix asphalts conserve energy and therefore have reduced their carbon foot imprint.

Tue August 09, 2016 - National Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

New warm mix asphalts conserve energy and therefore have reduced their carbon foot imprint.
New warm mix asphalts conserve energy and therefore have reduced their carbon foot imprint.

Asphalt paving contractors have made a concerted effort to “Go Green”. Asphalt is 100 percent recyclable. New warm mix asphalts conserve energy and therefore have reduced their carbon foot imprint.

The paving industry faces another difficult challenge in this effort due to environmental regulations, specifically the Clean Water Act, which said it is illegal to spill petroleum products on the ground in any amounts. This regulation comes into play in the paving industry at the laydown site where the industry has traditionally used diesel fuel to clean their tools and equipment and to help prevent asphalt from sticking to those tools and equipment.

The EPA has started cracking down on this practice. Fines for those caught can be as much as $10,000 per day per violation. Also, state departments of transportation typically do not allow the use of diesel fuel for cleaning and release on state jobs.

Where can the industry turn for a solution? It is highly unlikely the EPA will suddenly relax the regulations and quite honestly, they should not. Diesel fuel can enter the water supply and contaminate drinking water. The paving industry needs to find another solution to this problem.

According to David Elam, product manager of PaveForce, most cities, counties and paving contractors are in favor of environmental sustainability and DOT compliance but hesitate to make the switch away from diesel fuel simply because they believe it works the best and cost the least. While diesel fuel may have been the most effective option in the 70s and 80s, it is no longer the most effective asphalt cleaner and release. There are multiple products on the market today that work better than diesel fuel and provide a better value without the negative environmental effects.

Elam shares why many asphalt paving companies who have stopped using diesel fuel for cleaning and have successfully implemented biodegradable non-hazardous solutions instead.

“Specifically, I want to highlight what prompted these companies to make the switch and the positive effects they've seen since implementing a more environmentally friendly solution,” he said. “My hope is that other paving contractors who have not been able to implement a biodegradable product into their operations will glean some insight from these stories, overcome false beliefs and make the switch to a more sustainable solution.”

In 2005, Blythe Construction made the switch from diesel fuel to an environmentally friendly alternative. Billy Ray Akins, the paving superintendent at Blythe and a long-time paving veteran knew that the day of using diesel fuel would come to an end.

“The main reason we wanted to stop using diesel fuel was the environmental issue as we work around a lot of streams in North Carolina and we need to use a non-hazardous product as well as being compliant with DOT,” said Akins.

However, Akins realized that if they could not find a product his crews would use, he was wasting time and money. He maintained any alternative would have to meet their performance standards.

“Before we started using the biodegradable product, we put it through a test comparing it to diesel fuel,” he said. “We took two new shovels and treated one with diesel and the other with the new environmentally friendly product. We then shoveled asphalt and compared the results. I was impressed and decided to give it a try.”

Akins noted the positive feedback from his crews in response to the switch.

“At first they were on the fence because they didn't think anything could work as well as diesel,” he said. “After they were forced to use the biodegradable product they found the new product worked as good as or even better than diesel fuel.”

In fact, Blythe up-fitted their service trucks with a 30 gal. tank to hold the solvent and make it easily accessible for their crews.

Blythe took an important step in thoroughly testing for effectiveness to ensure their paving crews would adopt the change before making a switch. If management is not able to provide their crews with an effective alternative, many times the crews will continue to use diesel fuel.

In 2004, the VP of operations at APAC-Fayetteville found this to be true. He thought he had implemented a new citrus solvent to replace diesel fuel but wanted to see how an alternative biodegradable and RCRA-compliant product compared. Surprisingly, when he arrived for the demonstration, it was apparent his crews were still using diesel fuel despite being supplied with the citrus cleaner. When asked why they were still using diesel fuel, they simply responded, “Because it doesn't work like diesel.”

After testing the new biodegradable and RCRA-compliant product against the citrus cleaner and diesel fuel, APAC-Fayetteville became the first contractor in North Carolina to switch to a biodegradable, non-hazardous asphalt cleaning solution. Even if the intention from upper level management is to support environmentally friendly solutions, we must ensure those solutions are being implemented at the crew-level.

Lane Construction in Charlotte, N.C., considered both the value and environmental impact when choosing to make the switch from diesel fuel.

Dominick Barilla, paving manager of Lane in Charlotte said, “DOT likes us using an environmentally friendly product. Going Green promotes us being EPA compliant. The stuff works good. You can shop cost all you want, but when you have to use ten times as much you don't save any money.”

“This product even works on open grade friction course asphalt mixes,” said Tom Jones, trucking supervisor of Lane. “That stuff is very nasty. It sticks to everything. This product is the only one we have found, including diesel fuel, that works on these polymer based mixes.”

Biodegradable asphalt solvents may have a higher price per gallon but they tend to require less frequent application and have a much stronger cleaning ability on popular polymer-based asphalt mixes.

Barry Gunnoe, trucking supervisor at another Lane location in Lakeland, Fla., said, “Not having a cleaning solution for our tools, pavers and other equipment that come in direct contact with asphalt would cause our company a lot of trouble. For the last ten years we have used a biodegradable all natural solvent that helps keep our equipment clean and running as it should. This solvent has been approved by the FDOT for use as such. We can use this product in the field unlike the old standby, diesel fuel. It has no adverse effects on the environment and does a great job.”

Another example of a company committed to being green and being a caretaker of the environment.

Equipment dealers are also getting on board with biodegradable solutions in the asphalt cleaning sector. Virginia equipment dealer, Carter Machinery, noticed many of its paving customers were looking for an environmentally safe alternative to diesel fuel and asking its parts representatives for solutions. Carter took the initiative to become a distributor for an environmentally friendly asphalt cleaner to ensure all the pavers they sold would be equipped with an environmentally safe solvent.

Frank Harris, paving specialist of Carter said, “After pre-qualifying the product we started filling the ecology tanks on all of our new machines to assure that we do our part to make sure the customer starts off green and Carter is following its environmental policies. Once our customer's saw the product work, they knew that they had an environmentally safe product to use that worked well, and kept them from violating any laws.”

Now Carter provides its customers with an environmentally safe solution conveniently available at its local parts stores. In fact, other equipment dealers have taken Carter's lead and have jumped on board as distributors of an environmentally safe asphalt solvent as well.

The paving industry has always been diligent in following EPA regulations to avoid adverse environmental impact.

“I am certain they will continue that diligence in implementing biodegradable solvents into their operations,” said Elam. “There are biodegradable, non-hazardous alternatives on the market that work better and provide more value than diesel fuel. It is the responsibility of each city, county, DOT and paving contractor to take a deeper look at their daily operations. Do they have a cleaner that meets EPA & RCRA regulations and are they using it in the field? If not, it's time to make a change. I would like to applaud all the contractors who have successfully 'Gone Green' by replacing diesel fuel with an environmentally friendly asphalt solvent. You are leading the way in the industry and doing the right thing for our environment and our future.”

David Elam can be reached by email at: [email protected].

For more information, call 919/631-4331.

(This story also can be found on Construction Equipment Guide's website at

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