It is easy to label cars gas hogs and blame our dependence on foreign oil solely on the internal combustion engine. Yet most cars (my Jeep an exception, of course) need a smooth, flat road to operate on safely. Our roads are made from asphalt, which uses plenty of petroleum itself. Even a 100% electric car powered by solar energy will still punish a road driving over it many millions of times over. Those roads have to be built and maintained, requiring yet more oil. Ending our oil dependence isn’t as easy as some people claim.
However, there might be a solution for our asphalt problem coming from Iowa. Researchers from Iowa State University have come up with a bio-oil made from corn stalks, wood waste, and other bio-mass that could one day replace oil in asphalt.
Researcher Christopher Williams developed the bio-oil, which is made when biomass is superheated in an oxygen-free area. The resulting bio-oil can be mixed with asphalt and replace petroleum. It is also a money saver because it is easier to pave with bio-asphalt, and it doesn’t have to be heated as high to be used. Having briefly done a stint with a paving company, I can speak from personal experience; those machines get hot and extremely unpleasant to be around.
The bio-asphalt is first being tried out on a bike trail being built around Des Moines, Iowa. The mixture will contain just 5% bio-oil to begin with, a humble start that could one day grow to much more. Hopefully this project will have a positive outcome, because it sounds like another small-yet-important step to reducing, and eventually eliminating, our dependence on oil.