Q&A Series #05: Interview with Mike Southern

GRT Q&A with Mike Southern: Sustainability in the bitumen industry

About the guest

Mike Southern is into engineering, project management and a bitumen technology expert with more than 35 years of experience in the bitumen industry internationally. He has worked in applied and fundamental research & development and has a strong knowledge of bitumen chemistry, rheology, as well as manufacturing and application technologies.

He is a good communicator and is able to create a collaborative environment. He demonstrates the ability to deliver results from diverse, cross-functional teams from multiple countries across all regions with a commitment to innovation.

The topic of discussion: Sustainability in the bitumen industry

What are the drivers for sustainability in the bitumen industry? Is the bitumen industry at crossroads of trying to find ways to improve sustainable practices in the use of bitumen as a natural resources? What approach has Europe taken in tackling sustainability in the bitumen industry? Before we get all the relevant answers from our bitumen industry expert, these  key considerations are pivotal in achieving sustainability of bitumen as a natural resource: 

  • Recyclability.
  • Durability.
  • Reusability. 
  • Emissions. 
  • Processing.
  • Crude oil extraction.
  • End of life. 
  • Environmental compatibility. 

In this article, we learn more about sustainability in the bitumen industry from Mike Southern, Managing Director of BITUCONSULT LIMITED in the United Kingdom (UK). He is also the Senior Technical Advisor for Eurobitume in Europe. 

Q1: Can you tell us why sustainability is key in the bitumen industry?

Bituminous materials have a service life typically measured in decades. As such, what we create today will be in the construction product for a long time. Durability is the most important aspect in respect of reducing the environmental impact of construction materials. Moreover, although bitumen is a fossil-derived material, it is different from most other petroleum products insofar as it is never combusted and is, in principal, 100% reusable in new materials.

Q2: How is Eurobitume contributing to sustainability?

Eurobitume produced the first ‘ecoprofile’ for bitumen in 1999, so environmental impact has been a focus of bituminous materials for more than 20 years. In 2012 Eurobitume updated the Life-Cycle Inventory for bitumen and this was updated again in 2020 – the latest LCI is currently being updated to include more recent data for crude oil extraction and the impacts of new regulations on marine fuels for shipping. In addition, the latest update will make it easier for users of the LCI by providing data that can be more simply incorporated into Environmental Product Declaration.

Eurobitume has also hosted a seminar and workshop for downstream users of bitumen, including asphalt producers, membrane producers and highways administrations. Eurobitume also participates in dialogue with users of bitumen and is active in standardisation committees that will develop future standards for assessing environmental impact. Eurobitume has also participated in discussions with the European Commission regarding Green Public Procurement.

Q3: What regulatory framework is being used to champion sustainability in construction products?

The Eurobitume LCI is compiled in compliance with the ISO 14000 series of standards (ISO 14040 and ISO 14044).  At present there are no harmonised standards for bituminous mixtures in EU.

Q4: How far has ‘Green Public Procurement’ come and what is the future outlook?

The European Commission published a series of documents on GPP (https://ec.europa.eu/environment/gpp/eu_gpp_criteria_en.htm). The criteria are currently voluntary for EU member states to include in the bid processes. At this time only the Netherlands is using GPP in their bid processes for highways, but many other administrations are starting to collect information on environmental impact for road materials and construction.

Q5: How important are “Product Category Rules” in enabling impact assessments and system comparisons?

PCR will be essential for enabling sensible assessment of environmental impact for road materials and projects. However, it is likely that these will not be harmonised in the near future. The CEN Technical Committees responsible for road materials are currently looking at this area and there is an EN standard (EN15804) providing guidance on the development of PCR for construction products. However, the process is slow and bureaucratic and is likely to take many years before harmonised standards are available. EU member states are unlikely to wait for this and are likely to develop their own PCRs (as NL has done). This will make it complex to provide information across EU. 

Q6: What are some of the key challenges faced in implementing the Eurobitume Bitumen Life Cycle Inventory? 

Data quality is one of the main challenges for development of LCIs. Uncertainty and reliability of assumptions is a challenge for development of comparative Environmental Impact assessments. Eurobitume’s view is that their LCI is useful to use as an average value for bitumen produced anywhere in Europe.

Q7: Moving forward, how important are collaborations in tackling sustainability in the bitumen industry?

Collaboration of actors through the entire supply chain, from raw material producers, through to highway administrations will be critical to develop useful tools to assess environmental impact.

For all your consultancy services for the bitumen and bituminous products industry, visit – https://www.bituconsult.com/

Keith Nare

Technical Head of Communications for GRT, Keith leads GRT's content strategy across various platforms, whilst coordinating internally to build the voice and opinions of the GRT team. Keith is a product of Nelson Mandela University and his PhD work focuses on Polymer and Physical Chemistry. He was a Research Associate at SANRAL in South Africa and later spent time as a Visiting Research Associate to NTEC at the University of Nottingham in the UK. He is a former Director of Communications for CALROBO in the USA.

Keith is passionate and enthusiastic about health and safety, sustainability, networking and finding synergy through conversations.