Utrecht University: The world’s first test road with lignin produced in the Netherlands

In collaboration with the province of Groningen, the 250-metre-long lignin-based test section will be constructed in the north of the Netherlands, on the N987 between Siddeburen and Wagenborgen. This test road is part of the CHAPLIN XL* project, a collaboration of industrial and academic parties aiming to demonstrate that lignin as bitumen replacement works effectively at scale and leads to a significant CO2 reduction of road construction.

Martin Junginger external link, Professor Biobased Economy at Utrecht University and project coordinator of CHAPLIN XL, comments: “For the wide application of lignin in road construction in the future, it is necessary for road constructors to be able to provide financial, technical and environmental validation of bio-asphalt in tenders. We also notice that there is high international interest from road constructors for our test results”.

Avantium develops and commercialises innovative technologies for the production of plant-based chemicals and materials. In its DAWN pilot biorefinery in Delfzijl (the Netherlands), Avantium converts woody feedstock into industrial sugars and lignin. Lignin can be used for energy generation, but is also suitable for many higher value applications such as for bio-asphalt. In total, about 1,000 kg of Avantium lignin was added to the asphalt to replace a portion of the bitumen used in the production of the top layer of the test section on the N987. Annelie Jongerius, senior scientist at Avantium responsible for the valorisation of lignin, comments: “We are excited to showcase the potential of our lignin for the production of bio-asphalt. It is a great example of realising Avantium’s mission to replace fossil-based chemicals and materials with renewable alternatives.” The DAWN biorefinery has been made possible with a financial contribution from the province of Groningen.

The asphalt producing partners of CHAPLIN XL have improved the process to produce bio-asphalt at conventional asphalt plants, allowing for the scale-up of the lignin-based asphalt technology. Avantium closely collaborates with Roelofs, who has the ambition to transition to bio-asphalt. Roelofs will also construct a second test section on the N987 with conventional Kraft lignin from a Finnish paper mill. Gerard Hoiting, managing director at Roelofs, is pleased with the collaboration: “As a company we have the ambition to be climate neutral in 2030. Not only internally, but also with clients and partners we look for innovations and concrete applications and inspire each other towards a better world. This collaboration is a great example of this.”

The CHAPLIN XL partners will extensively analyse the lignin-based test road on techno-economic feasibility as well as on environmental benefits through a Life Cycle Assessment. Preliminary results indicate that lignin-based asphalt allows for a substantial reduction of the carbon footprint compared to its fossil-based counterpart.

IJzebrand Rijzebol, member of the Provincial Executive for Groningen, is pleased that the innovative test road is being built on the N987 near Groningen Seaports and Chemiepark Delfzijl. The production of the bio-asphalt will also take place in Groningen, at Asfalt Production Westerbroek (APW) in Westerbroek. The Chemport Europe ecosystem in the Dutch northern region is known as a leader in green chemistry and in reducing CO2 emissions. “The northern region of the Netherlands has high ambitions to move away from fossil resources and to transition to a circular economy also based on regional available resources such as sugar and wood residues. The CHAPLIN XL partners share this ambition and the bio-asphalt test road therefore fits well with our goals”.

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