Michigan Tech’s rubberized asphalt project aims to protect the environment

HOUGHTON — Rubber roads.  No it won’t turn rush hour into a game of bumper cars, but researchers at Michigan Tech feel it is the best way to go to save money and protect the environment.

The project, which is led by Civil and Environmental Engineering department chair David Hand, has already been awarded over $1 million in grants from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Professor Zhanping You said there are many benefits to switching to rubberized asphalt.

“If another county in the state is going to use this certain crumb rubber, which can extend the life of the pavement and have less maintenance, that’s going to be cost-saving for the taxpayers,” You said.

So how do we turn these pieces of rubber into these blocks of asphalt?  The rubber is shredded and then mechanically pulverized into a powder, which is then mixed with gravel and a bonding agent and then you get this.

Zeyad Ahmed, who is assisting in the research, discussed the environmental concerns that the project must address before this idea becomes a reality.

“Yes, we want to use this waste as a usable, sustainable material. But first we have to make sure that it doesn’t have some other effects to the environment…in this case, emissions,” Ahmed said.

The project will be studying how to reduce emissions, odor, and energy costs with a special trial test to be done next summer on the Mohawk-Gay Road in Keweenaw County.

Rubberized asphalt has been used in states like Arizona and New Mexico since the 1960s and with the help of these researchers, it can also be brought to the Copper Country.