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AECI Much Asphalt is the largest commercial asphalt producer in Southern Africa.

We pride ourselves on the consistent quality of our wide range of hot and cold asphalt products, our service offering to all asphalt users large and small, and our excellent safety record.

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Asphalt and Bitumen

World class development and testing facilities enable AECI Much Asphalt and subsidiary AECI Spraypave to offer clients consistently high product quality from design to delivery and placement. This is no easy task as local laboratories must conform to international best practice while also meeting the specific demands of the local industry, points out Joanne Muller, Manager of the AECI Much Asphalt Gauteng Regional Laboratory. AECI Much Asphalt’s Central Laboratory at the Cape Town head office and its Gauteng Regional Laboratory in Benoni are fully equipped for Sabita’s recently updated Manual 35 guidelines on the design and use of asphalt in road pavements. With the focus on Spraypave’s product offering, both also offer full performance grading (PG) capability on binders in line with SATS 3208:2019. To operate optimally and offer industry the best quality control possible, AECI Much Asphalt also offers testing capabilities that surpass current industry requirements on aspects such as moisture induced sensitivity testing as well as bond strength testing, to name a few. “We are one of three Industry stakeholders capable of analysing the chemical composition of bitumen by means of a SARA analysis and one of only two with Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) Spectroscopy capability,” explains Morne Labuschagne, Technical Manager – Bitumen at AECI Much Asphalt. “The FTIR technology used mainly to determine oxidation levels as well as polymer concentrations and types of bituminous binders.” Capacity squeeze Joanne Muller says industry uptake and implementation of Sabita Manual 35 based performance asphalt designs have been slow and staggered since its initial publication in 2015.  “Significant capital outlay is required to gear up for these designs and AECI Much Asphalt started the process immediately. The capacity that would be required was largely unknown, so many commercial laboratories in South Africa delayed the capital investment. It has become clear that more capacity is needed, and many laboratories are only now establishing this test capability.” Accelerated Sabita Manual 35 design implementation on contracts over the last two years has placed tremendous strain on the AECI Much Asphalt facilities as there are more designs required than equipment to perform them, Muller adds. “Specific tests such as Four Point Bend Fatigue testing are very time intensive, which compounds the problem.” AECI Much Asphalt has added fatigue testing devices in both laboratories to enable increased throughput and stay ahead of the curve. The company has also commissioned more gyratory compactors and vacuum sealed devices at its production facilities in the past year to align process control and Manual 35 design activities. A new gyratory compactor at the Central Laboratory not only increases capacity in arriving at the final answer once compaction is completed but enables observation during the compaction process, using sophisticated torque transducers built into the device. “This functionality helps us to understand the compaction behaviour of asphalt mixtures, evaluate the risk of material breakdown during compaction, and optimise mixtures for workability for example,” says Muller. Constantly evolving The AECI Much Asphalt Central Laboratory will commission an Epifluorescence Microscope at the end of April 2022, taking polymer modification to the next level in terms of product quality and process efficiency. “Global technology is always changing and improving, and our technical team continuously assesses how we can look at things differently to make the puzzle pieces fit,” says Muller. “We are currently exploring testing and the associated equipment required for semi-circular bending as a possible fatigue quality control measure, as well as binder shear ratio testing as a fatigue predictor.” In a move to expand the group’s design and testing footprint, a new laboratory is being set up at the AECI Spraypave plant in KwaZulu-Natal to complement the services in Gauteng and the Western Cape. A dynamic shear rheometer (DSR), used to characterise the behaviour of asphalt binders at high temperatures, has been commissioned here and laboratory staff are being trained. The new laboratory will be fully operational by mid-2022.

IMIESA-APR-2022

Bitumen faces an uncertain future

As an industry leader, AECI Much Asphalt’s reputation for product innovation and quality is backed up by proactive supply chain management to meet current and future demand. IMIESA speaks to Riaan Odendaal, National Operations Executive, about the road ahead and research into carbon-neutral binder alternatives that could eventually replace conventional bitumen. How has the asphalt industry in South Africa been impacted by the Covid-19 restrictions of the past two years? RO: The construction industry in general was impacted severely by not only delays due to restrictions on movement, but also by the reallocation of government funds to fight the pandemic. The asphalt industry lost significant volumes in 2020 and 2021, with bitumen offtake by AECI Much Asphalt dropping 28%. Are you seeing an uptick in demand for asphalt products and what are your expectations for 2022? RO: We are experiencing a definite improvement in activity so far in 2022. The number of contract awards is encouraging, although not at pre-pandemic levels. What is the significance of bitumen in the production of asphalt? RO: Bitumen is a binding agent produced from crude oil refining that makes up between 4% and 7% of most asphalt mixes. It has unique viscoelastic properties that contribute significantly to asphalt durability, and there are no commercial alternatives currently available. Bitumen is also extensively used in other road surfacing alternatives like seals and slurries. The closure of the Sapref Refinery has impacted the availability of bitumen to meet the needs of the South African asphalt sector. Please elaborate. RO: The Sapref Refinery in Durban supplied about 900t of bitumen to the local industry daily. This shortfall will not be met locally, as Natref in Sasolburg is the only refinery in South Africa currently producing bitumen. Various industry players have put contingency plans in place to source and store imported bitumen that should make up for the shortfall, although at a higher cost. How are other refineries responding to this situation? RO: To the best of our knowledge, Natref is already operating at capacity and is not planning to increase bitumen production. Astron in Cape Town has indicated a refinery restart in the latter part of 2022, but it is unclear whether this plant will produce bitumen again and, if so, which grades. How will the forced importation of bitumen impact asphalt prices and quality? RO: All imported binders will be subjected to the same rigorous quality control processes developed by our industry for local sources. To this extent we do not anticipate any negative effect on quality, but this does however impact the cost, as not all international sources meet our specifications. AECI Much Asphalt is well equipped with state-of-the-art testing and analysis in both its Central Laboratory in Cape Town and its Gauteng Regional Laboratory to ensure continued product quality. Will South African ports be able to receive and store the quantities required? RO: An oil major and various traders have imported various volumes of bitumen into the Durban and Cape Town ports this year, looking to the consignor to supply storage in most cases. Our industry is unfamiliar with the time constraints and logistics, but we continuously find ways to make the process more efficient and ask our clients to work with us in this endeavour. Will the bitumen situation result in project delays and hence a slowdown in much-needed road maintenance and construction activities? RO: AECI Much Asphalt is committed to securing the raw materials to meet our customers’ needs. Finding a pricing model for imported binders that industry agrees on will be the determining factor to minimise contract delays as local supply will continue to be severely constrained. What is AECI Much Asphalt doing to meet client demand? RO: Forecasting our production requirements will be key to meeting client needs. There will be significant increases in product lead times and possibly also more volatility around the price of bitumen. In partnership with our clients, we will continue to find innovative and economical ways to meet the demands in the industry. To what extent can the bitumen converter operated by group company AECI Spraypave meet demand for suitable grades of bitumen? RO: The ability of AECI Spraypave to convert base binders into various grades of bitumen positions the group strategically to better meet our clients’ requirements. Due to the volume constraints on bulk importation, we are well equipped to import one grade of bitumen very economically and locally convert the feedstock into various grades required for asphalt mixes, including 10/20 bitumen that is not available locally. What other steps can be taken to mitigate the shortage? RO: AECI Much Asphalt includes up to 40% reclaimed asphalt in its products in a drive towards sustainable production, which has resulted in more than a million tonnes of aggregate not being mined and avoided the refining of at least 55 000 tonnes of bitumen since 2012. The use of recycled asphalt is critical in reducing the use of non-renewable resources and mitigating environmental destruction. How will smaller suppliers be affected by the bitumen supply constraints? RO: There have always been various forms of bitumen importation models catering for various market segments. Although bulk importation will be our focus, there are also options to import in drums or containers. In the African context there are several companies specialising in bitumen trading to possibly serve this segment. What is the long-term scenario for the asphalt sector? RO: As pressure mounts internationally to move away from fossil fuel dependence, bitumen supply will surely be restrained. We anticipate future innovation in the industry focused on mitigating this risk. In one ground-breaking initiative, a partnership between Origin Materials, the world’s leading carbon-negative materials company, and AECI Much Asphalt is working to create a novel low-carbon bitumen from natural sources. The project is based on Origin Materials’ patented technology platform, which turns inexpensive, sustainable wood residues into cost-advantaged, carbon-negative materials that reduce the need for fossil resources. Turning Origin Materials’ carbon neutral feedstock into an alternative asphalt binder is very significant due to

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Bitumen Supply Status Update

Herewith an update on the bitumen supply status, as well as the bulk bitumen consignments received and planned for the immediate

AECI Much Asphalt

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The manufacturing facilities and offices of AECI Much Asphalt, AECI SprayPave and East Coast Asphalt are operating according to the requirements of the South African Government’s Covid-19 health and safety protocols. For information on Covid-19, please follow the link sacoronavirus.co.za.