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June 27, 2016

Pig manure paves road to sustainable asphalt

Engineers are road testing their new swine bioadhesive as possible replacement for petroleum-based adhesives

A new replacement for petroleum is coming from an unlikely source -- pig manure! It turns out that pig waste is particularly rich in oils that are very similar to petroleum. And while these oils are too low grade to produce gasoline, they may still work where the rubber meets the road.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), civil engineer Ellie Fini and a team at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical (NCA&T) State University have designed a sticky binder made from pig manure that can be used to make asphalt. At a cost of 56 cents per gallon to process, this new bioadhesive is a much less expensive binder than petroleum, and, so far, it's been standing up to rigorous testing.

In fact, Fini and her partners have filed patents on the technology and set up a company called Bio-Adhesive Alliance, with the vision of providing a win-win solution for farmers and the construction industry. Anything in the manure that stinks is filtered out during the processing, and the farmers can use the leftovers for fertilizer. So, nothing about the idea stinks!

The path from lab discovery to commercialization began with the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) project, during which the research team partnered with Mahour Parast, an assistant professor of technology management at NCA&T. Parast assisted the team in reaching a more detailed understanding of technical viability and potential marketability of the technology, as well as the complexity of the supply chain. In addition to interviews with potential customers, such as hog farmers and asphalt companies, the team also spoke with regulators and policy makers. "During I-Corps we also realized that there are many potential applications for this technology, in addition to asphalt," says Parast, who has been serving as president of Bio-Adhesive Alliance since its incorporation in 2013. "The continued support from NSF has been instrumental in helping us bring this innovation to its fullest potential commercially."

This research was supported by several grants from the NSF Directorate for Engineering, including a grant from the NSF I-Corps program, which prepares scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the laboratory and broadens the impact of select, NSF-funded, basic-research projects.

The grants are:

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Ann Kellan, Science Nation Producer

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.