Researchers develop bio-based bitumen from algae

13 May 2024 | Muriel Cozier

‘We’ve only scratched the surface with the potential applications of our bio-bitumen material.’

A microalgal-based biohybrid bitumen (MAB-bitumen) is being developed by a team of researchers led by carbon removal company CO2CO Ltd. The research is supported by Innovate UK, and Tarmac, as well as Nanolyse Technologies Ltd, Imperial College London, the University of Sheffield, and other asphalt industry leaders.

The material is based on specific strains of microalgae, either alone, or blended with other bio-based materials. The resulting material is said to offer many advantages over conventional bitumen, including environmental sustainability and cost effectiveness.

Developed under UKRI’s Sustainable bio-based Materials and Manufacture (SusBioMM) programme, Tarmac is set to complete live laboratory testing of the material at its technical facilities located in Ettingshall, UK. The MAB-bitumen is created by partially carbonising the initial algal biomass in an oxygen limited environment to produce a carbon and lipid-rich material. The partners said that while at an early stage of development, the new material is showing promise for large-volume production of different grades of bio-bitumen, meeting UK industry standards.

‘Early stage research has shown that the bio-bitumen derived from algae could be a very viable alternative to the energy intensive process of traditional bitumen production. It provides the same properties, but offers significant carbon saving when compared to petroleum-derived bitumen,’ said Tim Smith, regional technical manager at Tarmac.

Dr Imad Ahmed, CEO at Nanolyse Technologies, added: ‘We’ve only scratched the surface with the potential applications of our bio-bitumen material. Our ability to fine tune the material’s chemical structure and viscoelastic properties provides sustainable solutions for various industrial applications, including construction, waste management, catalysis and agriculture.’

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