by Professor John Read, General Manager Technology, Shell Bitumen.
More than 10,000 of Shell’s 90,000-plus employees work in the Projects and Technologies division. The research locations are spread out all over the world and focus on different issues.
In Europe, our Hamburg laboratory is the centre of expertise in worldwide fuel and lubricant research. Here, scientists work on how to make conventional fuels such as petrol and diesel even more efficient. Their focus also lies on advancing the development of alternative energies for road, maritime and air traffic. It’s also where the fuel for Ferrari in Formula 1 is produced and filled into containers, and transported to racing events.
However, the centre of our bitumen research and development is located in Bangalore, India. The facility is closely networked with technology centres in Houston, Bangkok, Shanghai, Beijing and the European Solution Centre in Strasbourg. This lab provides the impetus for the Shell Bitumen trade worldwide. Shell currently sells around 12,000 tonnes of bitumen daily to 1,600 clients in 28 countries – enough to surface 450 kilometres of roads each day – that’s 1 kilometre every four minutes.
Thanks to our international, leading-edge research, we can offer solutions to improve the quality of road infrastructure, such as addressing deformation, resistance, noise protection, safety and economic efficiency.
Among these are high performance products, such as Shell Cariphalte, a polymer-modified binder with very high resistance to deformation and excellent low-temperature flexibility, and which is therefore ideally suited to extreme conditions as well as making sound economic sense on a whole life cost basis.
Shell Cariphalte is not only used on the busiest roads in Europe, but also on more unusual traffic areas. For example, it has been used to pave the taxying, take-off and landing runways of some of the biggest international airports in the world, including Heathrow and Gatwick airports in London, Frankfurt, Hong Kong and Dubai. Shell Cariphalte is also used in many Formula 1 racetracks, such as those in Singapore, Malaysia and Hockenheim, or the Ferrari test track in Fiorano, Italy.
We have also focused our efforts for many years on asphalt recycling. Shell Cariphalte RC is our innovative, cost-effective solution that helps conserve natural resources and reduce total asset cost. Launched more than 16 years ago, it is a cost-effective polymer modified bitumen designed for high performance road applications in combination with Reclaimed Asphalt Pavement in base, upper and high-quality layers.
Another example of our innovation is Shell Bitufresh. This is an additive which reduces bitumen odour, and can therefore significantly improve the work environment during asphalting works. In recognition of our innovative approach, Shell received the International Road Federation’s Global Road Achievement Award for Research last summer for Bitufresh, and in June 2016 we launched the product in France. Currently, we have 49 active patent series reflecting our focus on R&D over the last 96 years.
Looking to the future there are many more opportunities to innovate. Shell Bitumen has developed synthetic bitumen emulsions that reduce nitrous oxides in the air by converting them into harmless nitrates that wash away from the road surface. We have also created a phosphorescent binder that absorbs light during the day and then gives it out at night to reduce the need for ambient street lighting. We have developed conductive asphalt that absorbs heat, which is then converted into electricity to feed the grid, and active asphalt that attracts PM10 particulates from the air to the road surface.
These innovations demonstrated that it is possible for roads to contribute to the sustainable development and to do more than just carry people and goods from A to B, however, route to market remains an issue for these type of products that cross more than one Government Department and work will need to be done for these types of product to become effective contributors to society.
Offering innovative products is only one key aspect to success; the other is a robust supply and distribution network.
Due to numerous refinery shutdowns and configuration changes, the bitumen supply on the European continent has changed fundamentally in recent years. Shell set the right course in good time. Through long-term, strategic investments, production at the refineries in Godorf near Cologne and in Pernis near Rotterdam were significantly increased. Furthermore, the expansion and flexibility of transport routes to include ship and tank wagons, as well as combined transports were improved in order to optimise and increase the supply chain coverage from the refinery via depots to the customer.
Finally, a constant market challenge is the continuing price volatility, which makes it difficult for asphalt manufacturers to safely calculate the cost of long-term road construction projects or those that are still far off in the future. Shell has responded to this with innovative risk management concepts, and offers customers price certainty, price flexibility as well as volume and purchase flexibility.
Professor John Read has worked in the bitumen and sulphur industry for nearly 30 years, from bitumen analytics to asphalt supply in a range of roles at Shell. John recently finished two terms as the Vice President of Eurobitume and as Shell’s Primary Director of the Asphalt Institute in the US.
Notes to Editors
- Shell has been innovating in the bitumen business since 1920 and currently has 49 active patents linked to bitumen and asphalt.
- Shell operates one of the world’s largest bitumen-dedicated research and development centres in Bangalore, India.
- Shell is a leader in bitumen technology, and recently published the “Shell Bitumen Handbook, Sixth Edition”, which covers the latest topics in bitumen technology and application.
- Shell Bitumen operates a network of Regional Technical Centres located in key regions (Beijing, China, Strasbourg, France, and Bangkok, Thailand.)
- Shell is the world’s largest bitumen marketer, and delivers enough bitumen to pave a one-lane kilometre road every four minutes.
- Shell Bitumen also offers its customers fixed price risk management services, giving contractors greater price stability, enabling them to plan project budgets more accurately
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