Asphalt is used abundantly in the U.S. due to its versatile quality. It is actually considered the most recycled material on Earth, but what exactly is asphalt? Asphalt is typically defined as the refined, solid form of petroleum made from distilling crude oil and contains five major elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, sulfur, and nitrogen. Asphalt is also referred to as bitumen.
The material is valued for its binding capabilities, structural strength, and temperature resistance. Asphalt is mainly used to create roadways, waterproof surfaces, parking lots, and roof shingles which are critical to the real estate market. In 2019, the U.S. produced more than 400 million tons of asphalt while housing more than 3,600 asphalt production sites. The country owned 36 billion barrels of bitumen deposits in 2019 alone.
The asphalt economy revolves around the material’s 100% renewability and circular life cycle. Once asphalt reaches the end of its life, a recycling company picks it up and subjects it to a process that extracts usable portions from the extraneous waste. These recovered portions are resold to providers of operations such as paving, shingling, and waterproofing. Every year about 99% of all asphalt pavement is recovered, which helps protect the planet as well as ourselves.
Recycling asphalt provides several benefits for our society. Recycled asphalt stops 2.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) from entering the atmosphere and prevents 11 tons of shingle waste from entering landfills as the average shingled roof can provide enough asphalt to pave 200 feet of a two-lane highway. Reusing the material can also reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil sources (as much as 7.86 million barrels each day) while cutting processing costs to $25 per recycling batch. As a result, American taxpayers can ultimately save more than $1.8 billion from asphalt recycling.
The asphalt recovery market is already booming as a $7.1 billion industry with the shingle recovery business following in its footsteps. There are currently more than 50 roofing recovery sites in more than 20 states in the U.S. as asphalt demands are estimated to rise 3% year over year. The Vermont Act 175 has actually made shingle recycling a mandatory process, and more states are expected to follow suit.
The asphalt shingles recycling process differs in certain aspects to recycling asphalt. The process is closed-loop and involves bitumen being pulled from the shingles using a specialized solvent. Extraction involves four steps that starts with the post ground waste asphalt shingle (WAS) being ground into coarse chunks to remove unwanted debris before the shingle chunks are mixed with a solvent to create a fluid mixture that dissolves the bitumen. Solid waste sinks to the bottom of the tank while the bitumen and solvents rise to the surface as the remaining solution is heated to separate all the solvents from the oil, which allows the solvent to be saved and the oil to be cleanly packaged.
95% of asphalt and bitumen recovery procedures provide the materials needed to resale asphalt, asphalt granules, and bitumen oil. With all that it offers, asphalt recycling is mattering more than ever before.