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The Norwegian start-up making roads carbon negative

Using recycled asphalt bonded by plant-based adhesive, Carbon Crusher has created a mix for carbon negative roads that is both affordable and actively sequesters emissions.

Paving the road to a greener future sounds awfully cliché, but that is quite literally Carbon Crusher’s business MO.

The Norwegian tech start-up has been wracking its brains over the last year to think up alternatives to conventional road tar. Since the Romans, there has been little innovation in the area, and the 40 million miles of roads today are mostly made up of crude oil and hardcore.

When maintenance or construction works are needed, which seems to be perpetually happening in London by the way, our current processes are very polluting – that’s 400 million tons of CO2 a year – and in stark contrast to global decarbonisation targets.

Even if we develop a new blend of green asphalt now, turfing up our existing roads and starting from scratch is a ridiculous prospect both logistically and economically. What has Carbon Crusher come up with then?

Impressively, the eco-innovator has developed a way of tweaking our existing roads’ DNA to actually sequester carbon emissions. Who doesn’t love a surely cut corner?

Credit: Carbon Crusher

Through use of its eponymous ‘Crusher’ machine, the top layer of both asphalt and concrete roads are ground up into mulch. Then, all residue is re-bonded by an agent called lignin, which is an abundant plant-based polymer left behind by the paper industry.

The natural cell structure of lignin actively absorbs carbon, meaning that when roads are re-laid in this way, any harmful emissions contained within the organic matter will be safely concealed within the road.

As it stands, the company is able to remove around a ton of carbon per every 60 feet of road it regenerates. Impressive, eh?

Within Carbon Crusher’s home land of Norway, excess lignin is regularly burned for energy which releases carbon directly into the atmosphere. Co-founders Kristoffer Roiler, Haakon Brunell, and Hans Arne Flato are aiming to put a dent in these emissions, whilst pushing a ‘cheaper, more durable way of rehabilitating roads.’

On that last point, Carbon Crusher has been developed and tested over the last decade, and the roads it has restored in that time have shown practical improvements too. ‘[Bitumen] gets very stiff when we get frost. It cracks up and then you have the same problem next year,’ says Flato.

Credit: Carbon Crusher

The key enhancement with lignin is that it is more flexible, meaning that cracks are far less likely to appear over time with seasonal changes.

You’d be right in pointing out that roadworks usually equals extra traffic (and therefore, more pollution), however, by repairing existing roads the maintenance period is infinitely faster.

‘The world doesn’t necessarily need new roads, it needs better roads,’ says Brunell.

Carbon Crusher is now beginning to scale up its operations to break into the European market. See what I did there?

Aside from its flagship machine – which it hopes to autonomously operate using hydrogen fuel in the near future – the company is also working on software that can track damaged roads via satellites.

That way, it can provide rapid turnarounds for patchwork jobs across the continent and gradually begin to grow its influence. As we ramp up our global decarbonisation efforts, perhaps Carbon Crusher can help us stay on the road to recovery.