Plastics are a vital part of the EU’s strategy for moving towards a circular economy. A groundbreaking LIFE project in Poland, LIFE EMU NEW, has developed technology which can use waste polymers to help build better roads, reducing the amount of plastic sent to landfill or incinerated.
More than half of all plastic waste in Poland goes to landfill, with just a quarter recycled and the rest burned to produce energy. LIFE EMU NEW’s pioneering technology can use plastic waste to make an asphalt emulsion suitable for road surfacing.
The emulsion is modified using waste polymers and mineral nanofillers, giving it better strength and bonding properties than the alternatives currently used in road construction.
“None of the products available on the domestic or international market have the same parameters,” says Paweł Szergowicz, president of Flukar, the Polish company coordinating the project. “Our modified asphalt has a lower production cost and gives a better quality final product.”
Less asphalt is used in the emulsion due to the inclusion of waste polymers and mineral nanofillers, which in turn reduces the consumption of petroleum. Meanwhile, the product’s strength means less of the emulsion is needed for road construction.
LIFE EMU NEW’s emulsion is expected to increase the life span of asphalt surfaces by almost a third, improving road safety. “It increases traction and so shortens the braking distance needed, as well as reducing wear,” explains Mr Szergowicz.
The project’s pilot plant, inaugurated in November 2019, will treat almost 180 tonnes of waste polymers per year, diverting them from landfill. A full-scale installation would consume more than 1 100 tonnes of waste polymers a year, translating into annual crude oil savings of 50 000 tonnes.
At present, there are 15 asphalt emulsion plants in Poland, located close to large road investments, according to Mr Szergowicz. “An average full-scale installation produces about 60 tonnes of asphalt emulsions per day,” he says.
“During the road construction season, which runs from April to October, around 140 000 tonnes of emulsion is consumed in total.” If LIFE EMU NEW’s technology was used to produce all of this, it would avoid an estimated 16 500 tonnes of waste polymers going to landfill or being incinerated.
Going forward, Flukar is keen to scale up the project’s results and is now looking for potential investors to help the company move into industrial production of asphalt emulsions. With LIFE EMU NEW’s innovative technology, a more sustainable and circular future looks in store for Poland’s roads.