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Infrastructure company Roelofs today (2 June) starts the construction of the world’s first test road made from asphalt with lignin produced by the renewable chemistry company Avantium. The fully plant-based lignin is used as a substitute for bitumen in asphalt, which is derived from crude oil.
Editorial office / Groningen

Commissioned by the province of Groningen, the lignin-based test road will be constructed on the N987 between Siddeburen and Wagenborgen, in the north of the Netherlands. This test road is part of the CHAPLIN XL project, a collaboration of industrial and academic parties aiming to demonstrate that lignin as bitumen replacement works effectively at scale and leads to a significant CO2 reduction of road construction.

Avantium develops and commercialises innovative technologies for the production of plant-based chemicals and materials. In its DAWN pilot biorefinery in Delfzijl (the Netherlands), Avantium converts woody feedstock into industrial sugars and lignin. Lignin can be used for energy generation, but is also suitable for many higher value applications such as for bio-asphalt. A total of approximately 1,000 kg of Avantium lignin was added to the asphalt to replace part of the bitumen to produce the top layer of the N987 test road. Annelie Jongerius, senior scientist at Avantium responsible for the valorisation of lignin, comments: “We are excited to showcase the potential of our lignin for the production of bio-asphalt. It is a great example of realising Avantium’s mission to replace fossil-based chemicals and materials with renewable alternatives.”

Improved process

The asphalt producing partners of CHAPLIN XL have improved the process to produce bio-asphalt at conventional asphalt plants, allowing for the scale-up of the lignin-based asphalt technology. Avantium closely collaborates with Roelofs, who has the ambition to transition to bio-asphalt. Roelofs will also construct a second test road on the N987 with conventional Kraft lignin from a Finnish paper mill. Gerard Hoiting, managing director at Roelofs, is pleased with the collaboration: “As a company we have the ambition to be climate neutral in 2030. Not only internally, but also with clients and partners we look for innovations and concrete applications and inspire each other towards a better world. This collaboration is a great example.”

The CHAPLIN XL partners will extensively analyse the lignin-based test road on techno-economic feasibility as well as on environmental benefits through a Life Cycle Assessment. Preliminary results indicate that lignin-based asphalt allows for a substantial reduction of the carbon footprint compared with is fossil-based incumbent. Martin Junginger, professor of Biobased Economy at Utrecht University and project coordinator of CHAPLIN XL, comments: “For the wide application of lignin in road construction in the future, it is necessary for road constructors to be able to provide financial, technical and environmental validation of bio-asphalt in tenders. We therefore notice that there is high global interest from road constructors for our test results”.

Green chemistry

IJzebrand Rijzebol, regional minster of the province of Groningen, is pleased that the innovative lignin-based test road will be constructed on the N987 near Groningen Seaports and Chemiepark Delfzijl. The production of the asphalt also takes place in Groningen, namely at the APW (Asfalt Production Westerbroek) in Westerbroek. The Chemport Europe ecosystem is renowned for being a green chemistry leader, as well as a frontrunner in reducing CO2 emissions. “The northern region of the Netherlands has high ambitions to move away from fossil resources and to transition to a circular economy also based on regional available resources such as sugar and wood residues. The CHAPLIN XL partners share this ambition and the bio-asphalt test road therefore fits perfectly with our goals”.

Image: Andrew Ostry/Shutterstock