Sealing the deal for asphalt aprons
By the 1960s, asphalt, the dark bituminous pitch mixed with sand or gravel for surfacing roads, was commonly used for the construction of airport runways and taxiways.
However, as it was susceptible to erosion by oil spills and could become worn and slippery with use, it was not viewed as a good option for airport aprons where these fuel spills were more likely. As a result, concrete, which is slower and more expensive to lay, was generally used for aprons, adding to the cost and complexity of airport construction.
In 1959 Shell began work to solve this problem with the development a sealcoat to protect asphalt from oil and fuel spills. Shell Central Laboratories in the UK developed a treatment consisting of a bitumen-extended epoxy resin (E-40) to be applied as a surface seal. Successful trials of the material took place at Shell’s Ghent facility in Belgium in 1962, with a further test under tropical conditions taking place at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a year later.
The treatment performed well in the trials in Malaysia and Shell was awarded a contract by the Malaysian Public Works Department to supply the sealant for the asphalt aprons at Kuala Lumpur’s new international airport. The success of the Kuala Lumpur project paved the way for the total asphalt construction of airports, helping operators save both time and money.
Shell has also played a major role in providing specially formulated bitumen for airport and runway construction, helping create reliable, durable surfaces that reduce down time and maintenance costs. Today, it supplies high quality, durable bitumen to over 100 of the world’s busiest airports, including London Heathrow, Dubai International, Amsterdam Schiphol, Hong Kong International and Sultan Hasanuddin International in Indonesia.