Feb. 3, 2021

Federal grant paves the way for more asphalt research at Schulich

$750,000 NSERC commitment doubles funding from Husky
Construction crews work on a road.
Construction crews work on a road. ColourBox

The old joke goes that there are two seasons in Canada: winter and road construction.

Once winter comes to an end, the construction crews set forth on a mission to fix all of the issues hiding under snow and ice. But what if those road facelifts weren’t needed as often?

Dr. Martin Jasso, PhD, is hoping to help ease the strain on those road maintenance companies as well as the headaches for motorists. He is developing and testing new methods of asphalt binders to build better, flexible pavements.

Jasso is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering and the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering, as well as chairholder of the Husky Endowed Research Chair in Bituminous Materials.

“We need paving material which will be able to withstand this wide range of temperatures,” Jasso says, referring to Canada’s wild swings in weather.

Hitting the road

Over the last decade, Jasso has dedicated his research to finding the right combination of materials to make a road surface that can handle Canada’s weather and heavy traffic. If the asphalt is too hard, he says, cracks will appear, while if it’s too soft, the road will deform.

“We are trying to find modifiers and their possible combination in order to develop paving asphalt with optimum environmental and engineering properties,” Jasso says. “We also want to optimize the technologies we have available to us.”

Recently, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) awarded the University of Calgary with $750,000 for asphalt research, matching research funds provided by Husky Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of Cenovus Energy. The NSERC/Husky Energy/Bituminous Materials Chair Alliance grant is a five-year endeavour to be headed up by Jasso.

“The research conducted at the University of Calgary has given Husky the ability to patent certain technologies,” says Martin Ray, director, asphalt and industrial products with Husky. “Technology that led to our breakthrough development of higher-quality products like polymer-modified asphalt (PMA).”

Laying the groundwork

Jasso’s job now is to answer some big questions about asphalt. What are the best modifiers to use? Which ones age well? How realistic is it to use them on a large scale?

Cost will be another issue, especially with governments at all levels talking about fiscal restraint.

“When you add modifiers into asphalt, of course, the initial costs will be a little higher,” Jasso admits. “But you can still use the same paving technology without problems and you won’t have to worry about patching or repaving so frequently. You do save money in the longer-term.”

Another added benefit, according to Jasso, is that fewer repair jobs will mean the asphalt is more environmentally friendly and safer for motorists.

“We are looking at the whole life cycle of the material and, in the end, how this material will be recycled, whether we can use it for reconstruction or rehabilitation of the road,” Jasso says. “We are looking at all aspects of the paving technologies.”

Husky is hoping to integrate the research into what they do daily.

“Having these funds to support the asphalt industry is a huge accomplishment,” says Brett Lambden, manager, technical services and innovation with Husky. “This grant reinforces the University of Calgary as an industry leader in asphalt performance and specification, and will help support students focused on the industry, professional development and research into better-performing material.”