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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.


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


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


Bitumen Supply Update From Bennie Greyling at AECI Much Asphalt

Further to the previous correspondence dated 22 February 2022, we wish to confirm the current status of bitumen supply as well as a proposed


A Letter from BC Greyling at AECI Much Asphalt

Further to the public announcement by the shareholders of the refinery known as SAPREF, located in Durban, find attached correspondence from bot

AECI Much pic 2


AECI Much Asphalt has taken home first and third places in the Manufacturers category of the National Master Builders South Africa (MBSA) 2021 Health and Safety Competition. The Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) branch received the national trophy for the third time in 2021, with previous top spot successes in 2015 and 2017. This plant has won the Eastern Cape Regional MBSA Health and Safety Competition no fewer than 18 times since it first entered in 1994 and has been placed in the top three since inception of the national competition in 2013. AECI Much Asphalt’s Regional SHEQ Officer Roger Geswint says site inspection and accurate record keeping came out as major wins in the 2021 audit. He drives health and safety excellence at AECI Much Asphalt Gqeberha with the assistance of Maintenance Supervisor Louis Blume and Lab Supervisor Thabo Motaung. “We work as a team, we have an excellent team spirit, we take ownership, and we have a Zero Harm mindset,” says Geswint. KwaZulu-Natal AECI Much Asphalt’s Coedmore branch took first place in the KwaZulu-Natal Regional Competition and third place in the National MBSA Competition. Much like its Eastern Cape counterpart, the Coedmore branch has a proud record of consistently winning the Regional Master Builders South Africa Competition every year since 2013. “We work in a dangerous environment and the safety of our people will always be our top priority,” says Shivanie Rambaran, AECI Much Asphalt SHEQ Officer on this site. She asserts that continuous improvement is the secret of the Coedmore plant’s success. “Compliance is the endgame for most, but the difference between ordinary and extraordinary is the little extra. In keeping with our Zero Harm culture the aim is to exceed compliance, and this requires continuous improvement.” Working with her to ensure continuous compliance are Plant Supervisors Patrick Blanka Mambane in Maintenance, Roland Gopichand in Production, and Simphiwe Hokomane in Quality Assurance and Laboratory, as well as Branch Manager Trevor Thompson. “Over the years the KZN team has rallied together to maintain a positive attitude, work diligently, remain focused and, most importantly, learn from past mistakes,” says Rambaran. These key ingredients have allowed us not only to identify pressing issues, but to also find and correct the root causes.”

AECI Much pic 2

Valuable Systems Upgrade for AECI Much Asphalt

A major operating system software upgrade is enabling AECI Much Asphalt to identify and standardize best practice across its manufacturing facilities in South Africa. The upgrade has included modernizing its database to enable the generation of live plant reports that can be used to confirm the integrity of the asphalt and evaluate consistency across 15 manufacturing plants. Data from the plants, as well as weighbridges and laboratories, can be produced and interpreted on the same platform to link all aspects of the production process from design through to distribution for each plant. “Our new system offers the unique ability to provide access to a significant range of live data, enabling our managers to make immediate, informed decisions,” says Colin Brooks, Group Plant Technical Manager. Analysis of the reports enables AECI Much Asphalt to compare international benchmarks with its own internal targets. Data provided includes the date and time of the batch, the recipe used, and measurements such as rate of production, bitumen tank temperature logging, bitumen and fuel level readings, as well as cold feed outputs. ‘’From this important information, we are able to create a standard template which can compare efficiency and quality in terms of start-ups, number of mixes, length of runs and other data,” says Brooks. “The benefit to our customers will be our ability to deliver a better-quality product on spec and on time. As we improve and standardize the best practices across all plants, we will also see an improvement in our energy usage, which will help to reduce our carbon footprint.” AECI Much Asphalt uses an Adroit operating software, which was developed in collaboration with Technopark Automation & Control (TAC) about 20 years ago. An upgrade to the Adroit software was required due to the shift to Windows 10. It was decided to dovetail this process with conversion of the database from Microsoft Access to SQL to standardize data capturing across all manufacturing processes from start to finish. Using the Adroit interface, TAC carried out all the back-end programming and changes. The upgrade took place over a two-year period and was completed at the end of 2019. “While we previously captured our data, the challenge was that all the pickup points were allocated to different places in the database and so we would have to sieve through the data to make comparisons between plants,” says Brooks. “We are planning to upgrade further to enable live tracking of stock usage, which will assist in achieving quick and efficient stock management.” Training has been provided to staff on generation and interpretation of the reports. While some aspects of the process still need to be operated manually at this stage, Brooks says AECI Much Asphalt expects the system to be fully automated by the end of 2021. “The Benoni plant is the only one that is not yet integrated as it uses a different operating system. We can generate reports, but not yet live data in real time,” Brooks explains. “We are liaising with the manufacturer of the Benoni plant and are confident that a solution will be available soon.” Colin Brooks, Group Plant Technical Manager, pictured at the AECI Much Asphalt Eerste River plant in Cape Town.

Worthy winners – Melissa-Ann Jew and Eddie Jansen van Vuuren.

AECI Much Asphalt and AECI SprayPave share Coveted HSE Award

The Southern African Bitumen Association (SABITA) has named Eddie Jansen van Vuuren of AECI SprayPave and Melissa-Ann Jew of AECI Much Asphalt as joint recipients of its 2020 CEO Merit Award for Notable HSE Achievement. The winners were announced on 15 April 2021. Melissa-Ann Jew is SHEQ Manager at AECI Much Asphalt and Eddie Jansen van Vuuren is Director of AECI SprayPave, a subsidiary of AECI Much Asphalt. The SABITA HSE Award recognises notable initiatives by member companies or individual employees who have significantly contributed to the enhancement of HSE management within their own organisations or the bituminous industry in general. The first recipients of the annual CEO Merit Awards were announced in 2012. Nominations are received from member companies and the nominees must provide details on issues such as economic benefit of HSE performance enhancement, innovation to promote behaviour change, and applicability of achievements to the wider industry. “This time around there were joint recipients and we are very proud that both come from the AECI Much Asphalt group,” says AECI Much Asphalt Managing Director Bennie Greyling. Passion for the environment The nomination for Melissa-Ann Jew read as follows: “When Much Asphalt joined the AECI Group in 2018, the TRIR was over 3 against an AECI internal aim of <0,5. Melissa was appointed as SHEQ Manager for the AECI Much Asphalt group during the latter part of 2019. With excellent people skills, capable planning and passion she drove the TRIR down to the current 0,38. This puts AECI Much Asphalt amongst the top performers in the AECI group and indeed against global best practice. In addition, through passion for the environment and sheer drive she ensures that all the AECI Much Asphalt and SprayPave sites operate within the law and beyond in this respect. Her sincere love for people, as well as their safety and the environment they live and work in, plays a big role in her success. Her approach to everything is totally customer focused and continually promotes the concept that the SHEQ team serves others. Satisfaction surveys are used to evaluate processes and the input and criticism are used to achieve better performance. In her acceptance speech, Melissa-Ann mentioned that she was in fact receiving credit for a team effort and that no strides would have been achieved without the support of every employee. She went on to say: “I want to thank my mentor and leader, Bennie Greyling, for his and the senior management’s unwavering support in all aspects SHEQ. It is a dream come true to work with such amazing people and such an amazing team.” The right way to dispose of waste Eddie Jansen van Vuuren was nominated for his work on a waste bitumen recovery project which ensures that bituminous waste and steel drums do not end up on landfill sites. The project facilitates separation of the waste into components that can be re-used, followed by safe disposal of those that cannot be reused. Eddie assembled a team to design and build a system consisting of a drum decanter and heating procedure to recover bitumen from drums collected from customers and the three AECI SprayPave branches. This ensures that bitumen waste and steel drums do not unnecessarily end up on landfill sites and are safely disposed of in accordance with waste management regulations. This process comes at a substantial cost to the business. The initiative was a direct result of the AECI SprayPave Responsible Care Policy (cradle to grave commitment) and is a good example of sound Product Stewardship, which will hopefully “rub off” on other industry leaders. Waste management in the “blacktop” industry has always been a thorny issue and this project paves the way for other initiatives demonstrating that the industry really cares about the environment. Worthy winners – Melissa-Ann Jew and Eddie Jansen van Vuuren.


AECI Much Asphalt to pioneer low carbon asphalt production

A ground-breaking partnership between Origin Materials, the world’s leading carbon negative materials company, and AECI Much Asphalt, southern Africa’s largest commercial asphalt manufacturer, is set to take world asphalt production by storm. Origin Materials, based in West Sacramento, USA, produces low and negative carbon materials with the mission to enable the world’s transition to sustainable materials. This is exactly what the partnership aims to achieve in the asphalt sector. Origin Materials and AECI Much Asphalt have launched a programme to create a novel low-carbon bitumen. At the heart of the programme lies Origin Materials’ patented technology platform, which turns inexpensive, sustainable wood residues into cost-advantaged, carbon-negative materials that reduce the need for fossil resources. AECI Much Asphalt is an AECI Group company and AECI is a strategic investor in Origin Materials. The partnership with Origin Materials reflects the commitment of AECI Much Asphalt and its parent company to delivering innovative environmental solutions. “AECI Much Asphalt and Origin are both committed to innovative, sustainable solutions for bringing the globe to net zero as quickly as possible,” says Origin Materials co-CEO Rich Riley. “With AECI Much Asphalt’s leadership position in asphalt and extensive reach as a supplier to the African continent, we expect that this partnership can result in a significant reduction in carbon emissions and will play a key role in Origin’s mission to enable the world’s transition to sustainable materials.” “AECI has formalised its strategy to 2025, which has sustainability at its core,” adds Dean Mulqueeny, AECI Group Executive and Chairman of AECI Much Asphalt. “Roll-out of the strategy includes our commitments and targets in terms of carbon intensity reductions. The partnership with Origin is totally aligned with this and exemplifies our brand promise of enabling ‘a better world’ through our products and services.” For AECI Much Asphalt, the partnership with Origin Materials is a significant step in reducing its own carbon footprint and that of its customers. Herman Marais, Plant and Technical Director at AECI Much Asphalt, says this programme is very significant due to the vital role of bitumen as the binder in asphalt production and the direct relation of the bitumen to the long-term performance of asphalt. Bitumen is the glue that holds the whole asphalt mix together and aids in compaction during the paving process. Once the asphalt has cooled, the bitumen provides the necessary stiffness and durability to the asphalt layer to last for its design life. “Although we currently only measure the carbon footprint of our processes during the manufacture of our asphalt products, the carbon footprint of the bitumen itself is high. Turning Origin Materials’ carbon neutral feedstock into an alternative asphalt binder therefore makes huge environmental sense,” says Marais. The collaboration with Origin Materials is expected to create considerable value in the developing African market, where AECI Much Asphalt is active, and could revolutionise global bitumen production. AECI Much Asphalt already 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 some 53 500 tonnes of bitumen since 2012. The Origin Materials platform is expected to provide stable pricing largely de-coupled from the petroleum supply chain, which is more volatile than supply chains based on sustainable wood residues. “With the closing of the Engen refinery and recurrent production challenges experienced by the other local refineries, South Africa has become a net importer of bitumen over the past year,” says Marais. “There is no indication that this balance will be redressed in the foreseeable future and the potential of an alternative source of asphalt binder from Origin Materials is an opportunity not only for environmental benefit, but also to ensure sustainability in the South African bitumen and asphalt market. “There is very exciting development work ahead and we eagerly await the commissioning of Origin Materials’ first production facility at the end of 2022 and its second not long thereafter to start seeing the true benefits of this joint venture.”