Infrastructure rusty

Published on October 8th, 2010 | by Christopher DeMorro

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Bio-Oil Could Replace Petroleum in Asphalt

October 8th, 2010 by  
 

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.

Source: EurekAlert! via Iowa State University | Image: Chris DeMorro



About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.



  • Researcher Christopher Williams developed the bio-oil, which is made when biomass is superheated in an oxygen-free area.

    But doesn’t the superheating require fossil fuel energy, or are they using some biofuel for that?

  • The bio-oil is a product of the pyrolysis of biomass. Biochar is another product. Read Wikipedia’s page on biochar and follow some of the links to learn more.

  • Problem is what are they using to grow that corn? Guess what: oil. So until they can stop growing corn using tons of oil based fertilizers, then we are just robbing from peter to pay paul. I suggest you read The Omnivores Dilemma – you will realize that all the fantastic abundance of corn we have is the result of petroleum and Monsanto GMO corn. I think we need a much better solution.

  • It’s good people are thinking beyond the usual “gasoline/diesel fuel” alternatives, as there are other things that come out of that barrel of crude, like heavy fractions used in asphalt. Now I wonder if one could use this with recycled crushed glass to make shingles?

  • .
    The bio-oil is a product of the pyrolysis of biomass. Biochar is another product. Read Wikipedia’s page on biochar and follow some of the links to learn more

  • Tim

    is it possible that blue petroleum will replace oil. will there be enough produced to replace oil. Please say its true.

  • Pingback: Directory of Biomass technologies and resources wind | ETFEW.COM()

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