FEATURED WINTER 2019 ISSUE
POET Is Improving Asphalt With a High-Quality, Bio-friendly Replacement for Petrochemicals
As the world’s largest biofuels producer, POET is largely known for creating clean-burning, environmentally friendly biofuel to power cars on the road. Now, through the company’s latest product — JIVE™ asphalt rejuvenator — POET is replacing petrochemicals with bio-based products in a completely different market: the asphalt industry.
The renewable product — which is a derivative of POET’s proprietary process — allows asphalt producers to use more recycled asphalt, which makes their product less expensive and is better for the environment.
JIVE gives asphalt more flexibility, meaning it can withstand more pressure. It allows asphalt to withstand higher — and lower — temperatures. It also replaces aromatic hydrocarbons and petrochemicals that are hazardous to the environment.
JIVE has a dual purpose when it comes to asphalt: It is both, in industry terms, an asphalt rejuvenator and modifier. It can be added to aged asphalt (as a rejuvenator) and to performance-grade asphalt to obtain different grades (as a modifier).
As a modifier, JIVE softens the asphalt and improves its temperature properties, making it less likely to crack at low temperatures. “JIVE improves the low temperature properties without creating a softening effect that’s too dramatic,” says Matt Reiners, Vice President of Business Development at POET Nutrition, POET’s animal feed division.
As a rejuvenator, JIVE reduces stiffness and makes recycled asphalt less brittle, giving it a second life. By including POET’s JIVE product, asphalt producers can increase the level of Recycled Asphalt Pavement, or RAP, in a mix.
A higher level of RAP equates to lower costs for asphalt producers, noted Alex McCurdy, Ph.D., POET Senior Research Scientist, who, with Matt Reiners, is part of a small team at POET that has been working on market and product development for JIVE applications. “There’s less raw material cost. They can include more RAP, but at the same time get the same mix performance, because JIVE is helping to rejuvenate and soften the material so it can be better used for pavement design,” McCurdy said.
The road to enter the asphalt industry has been a long and winding one. There was a belief that a byproduct of POET’s production process could have similar chemical characteristics of tall oil, an ingredient in asphalt.
Samples were sent off to a test firm in Tulsa, Okla., and it was learned that this unique product actually outperformed the tall oil.
“We thought that this could work,” says Reiners. “And we knew one thing for sure: If we could make it work, we knew we could provide this industry with a green, sustainable alternative that could replace those toxic petrochemicals. Sure, it was a new industry for us, but that mission is everything POET stands for. That was a really exciting realization.”
Additional outside testing of JIVE and in-house research continues to reveal positive results. POET’s patented proprietary process has long made their ethanol and distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) stand out in the industry because of the unique process by which it’s made. BPX also provides a benefit for the vegetable-based asphalt rejuvenator: They found that the BPX process helps make JIVE less expensive and safer than comparable products while also providing the necessary product consistency the paving market demands.
Because of its beneficial properties, manufacturers can add a higher percentage of recycled asphalt to the mixture.
“Not only is our JIVE better than other current products, but we can also use our in-house shipping to get people the product faster,” says Ashley Hummel, Merchandising Manager at POET Nutrition, who was working with McCurdy and Reiners on market and product development. “And we don’t rely on the price of crude oil, which can go up and down. Our prices have remained consistent, and we can lock people in for a longer term so they know what they’ll be paying.”
LEARNING THE BUSINESS
At the beginning of 2018, POET started selling JIVE to asphalt producers. In February of 2018, they made their first sale. But they got the word out and let producers test their new product. In March, sales doubled and kept growing from there. “The team already knew we were headed in the right direction, and that carried through to the rest of the year,” Reiners says.
It’s been a long road.
“It took a year for us to test it enough to even know how to speak the language,” says Reiners, of the period after that initial conversation.
“We had meeting after meeting with people who knew the asphalt business. We would go to conferences and we would have 18- to 20-hour days and it was nothing but learning about asphalt.”
“Taking a new product and going into a new market is one of the most challenging and risky things for any business,” says Greg Breukelman, President of POET Nutrition. “This team has worked together to do whatever it takes.”
“We weren’t in the asphalt business, so it took a long time — sometimes two years — for people to even want to talk to us,” says Hummel, who has spent a week or two per month traveling to conferences over the past few years. “But we kept calling and showing up and sending them samples. We knew we had a great product; we had to make them realize we were serious.”
The team sought out input on the performance of JIVE from a testing lab at the National Center for Asphalt Technology (NCAT) at Auburn University, a research and technology center highly regarded across the asphalt industry. NCAT’s testing showed that JIVE improves mix performance in asphalt mixes containing high-recycled content, McCurdy noted. The study from NCAT was a stamp of approval that helped the team gain more credibility in the industry.
Now they are seeing the product take off, and it’s exciting to see how JIVE fits in with POET’s overall vision to replace petrochemicals with renewable products, they say.
“One of the cool things about POET is that we’re not scared as a company to step outside of our comfort zone and give stuff like this a try,” says Reiners. “It took a little while, internally, to gain enough momentum for people to really start to listen to this crazy idea, but we got a ton of support from our leadership team. Now we’re providing a green alternative that’s not carcinogenic, that’s not harmful to the environment, and that’s less expensive and works better than any of the alternatives in the marketplace today. Once we put the collective horsepower of POET behind a project, we’re able to make things happen.”
For McCurdy, JIVE represents everything that makes POET a leader in bio-products. “We’re always looking for new applications, especially those that fit the vision of POET,” says McCurdy, whose co-workers on the project have dubbed him “Dr. JIVE.” “We’re producing a renewable, nontoxic product and, like a lot of what we do, it’s replacing materials like aromatic hydrocarbons that are hazardous to workers on the job site and hazardous to the environment.”
JIVE, he says, is just the start of what could be a new marketplace for POET, a marketplace that will let POET expand that vision of replacing petroleum-based products with plantgrown, renewable bio-based products.
“As long as agriculture’s been part of our world, we still believe that there’s almost infinite opportunities for agricultural-based products,” says Breukelman. “And if we can function as a society by getting the resources from the top of the earth instead of having to dig down to the bottom, then we’re all going to be better off for generations to come.”