Thursday, June 2, 2011

Don't Lie to Me

(from the March 2011 Editor's Note in AsphaltPro Magazine)

I’m sure there are honest people within the concrete paving industry. I wonder if they’re as irritated as I am by their industry’s misrepresentation of information about our respective pavement products.

I’ve complained in this column before about the Portland Cement Association’s use of incorrect assumptions in their lifecycle cost analyses when comparing asphalt and concrete pavement thicknesses. PCA members didn’t appear interested in facts and figures from members of the Asphalt Institute to make corrections to their equations, so their software remains flawed. The Asphalt Pavement Alliance has since released realistic lifecycle cost analysis software, which can be accessed at

At the 56th annual meeting of the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) in Orlando in early February, presenters showed ads from a $1 to $2 million campaign the concrete industry launched against the asphalt industry last year. It’s frustrating to see an ad in which someone claims asphalt pavements fail in a certain number of years. (It sort of makes their lifecycle cost analysis efforts look silly.)

On a bright note, Howard Marks of NAPA shared a slide in which the actual carbon footprint of HMA sat comfortably on a level just slightly higher than the carbon footprint of WMA with 20 percent RAP. Both were at less than 500 CO2e for the 50-year lifecycle of the pavement. It’s impressive to see how little energy asphalt production requires. On that same slide, there was a tall tower of color that represented the carbon footprint of PCC. It was at nearly 2,000 CO2e for the same lifecycle of the pavement.

Holy cow.

I didn’t realize how bad it was. So I did some research and found a disturbing quote from a May 24, 2009, article at “Many scientists currently think at least 5 percent of humanity’s carbon footprint comes from the concrete industry…” The article explained that civil and environmental engineering professor Liv Haselbach of Washington State University is evaluating the lifecycle carbon footprint of traditional and new concrete applications, and looking for ways to improve them.

Apparently, they need improvement because the PCC folks are making up concepts like “feedstock energy” to try and make asphalt pavements appear as bad as the concrete industry’s product. According to the collective minds in the concrete industry, the “feedstock” known as petroleum that becomes entrapped in an asphalt pavement is supposed to remain flammable after its entrapment, thus remain capable of emitting bad stuff. Apparently, if you retract the asphalt from the pavement and burn it—and by doing this alone—you can bring an asphalt pavement’s carbon footprint “up” to a concrete pavement’s carbon footprint.

You can also make a concrete pavement appear to save on fuel use if you coast downhill on it. Real physics tells us that smooth pavements cut fuel use—thus costs. Real physics, and profilographs, tells us that asphalt pavements are smoother than concrete pavements. Those are facts that can’t be removed by the guise of coasting downhill and publishing the findings in some PR campaign. If we must find something nice to say about that, I guess it would be that by costing the end user more in fuel dollars, the concrete industry is contributing more substantially to the gas tax than the asphalt industry.

I again invite you to visit to download the free publication “Carbon Footprint: How Does Asphalt Stack Up?” and other items researchers have prepared. These white papers and publications will give you real-world facts and figures you can quote when someone outside of our industry misrepresents information. I find that arming myself with facts and information with which to correct others lessens my irritation.

Stay Safe
Sandy Lender (sandy at theasphaltpro dot com)

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