How Canada’s oilsands can help build better roads | Queen’s Gazette

The quality of asphalt binder — the glue that holds roads together — influences their condition. Binder made from Alberta bitumen is low in waxes and could extend pavement lifespan.

Top performance from top-quality Alberta binder. (Simon Hesp)

The future seems bleak for Canada’s oilsands. But given the world’s ongoing need for smooth, safe roads, there is hope for the industry. Asphalt binder made from oilsands bitumen is the ideal glue to hold the world’s 40 million kilometres of roads together — and it can be done sustainably, economically and environmentally.

With the global transition to electric vehicles underway, and Canada’s 2021 commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 to meet its Paris Agreement obligations, Canada will use less fossil fuels, especially from imports and upgraded products, including those from the Alberta oilsands.

About 10 per cent of Canada’s current emissions come from the extraction and upgrading of crude bitumen from the oilsands, roughly 70 million tonnes per year. Globally, about 70 to 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions are from burning fuels for electricity, heat and transportation, and from industry.

Our research group has investigated the life-cycle performance of asphalt roads for the past 30 years, providing some remarkable insights on the relative benefits of straight Alberta binder, produced with minimal refining and without upgrading. Producing asphalt binder from Alberta crude bitumen can realistically reduce combustion and life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from the oilsands by anywhere from 40 to 60 per cent.

Low-quality asphalt leads to more repairs

Alberta bitumen is low in wax, making it highly desirable for the production of asphalt binders. The low wax content means the pavement can be recycled — and recycled again — supporting a true

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