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Roadway Construction and Greenhouse Gases

In this latest edition of the RoadReady Newsletter, we took a look at the energy cost of building roadways. Beyond the financial costs of energy, most of the energy that goes into a roadway comes from fossil fuels. In this week’s blog, let’s take a look at how these energy costs contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Summary of relative contributions of emissions from three European projects

Much of the energy costs of asphalt roads comes at the asphalt plant, where aggregate is dried and mixed with liquid asphalt at high temperatures. The EPA estimates that for every ton of hot-mix produced, an HMA plant will emit 35 pounds of CO2. This means if a given roadway project uses 1,000 tons of asphalt, emissions at the asphalt plant alone will reach 35,000 pounds of CO2. This is roughly equivalent to paving four miles of a four lane highway. One way to cut down on fuel burning is through use of warm-mix asphalt technologies. If we assume that warm-mix uses 20% less energy, these emissions for the same project could be reduced to 28,000 pounds of CO2. This reduction in CO2 is roughly equivalent to taking one car off the road for a year. While this may not seems like a lot on its own, these numbers add up over longer roadway projects and on a global scale.

Overall, the use phase of a roadway is the dominant source of greenhouse gas emissions. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to clean up materials production and roadway construction.  When we consider cleaning up our air, we need to think about not only our cars but the roads they drive on.

For more information on energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in road construction, check out the following links:

Energy Cost of Asphalt and Reinforced Concrete Pavement Materials and Construction

Sustainable Roadway Construction: Energy Consumption and Material Waste Generation of Roadways

Carbon Footprinting on Highway Projects: Examples from Norway, Sweden and UK

Credit from the Greenroads Manual – Lifecycle Inventory

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