Berkeley Asphalt plans low-odor technology

Berkeley Asphalt in Berkeley, California, is to install warm-mix asphalt plant following negotiations between the company and city staff that began last year.  Berkeley Asphalt’s neighbors have long complained about the noise, odors, and pollution from the plant most recently challenging the permit.

“Since we’ve owned the operation, we have worked closely with the community and city, trying to be good stewards,” said Mike Roth, a vice president with plant owner Lehigh Hanson. “We hope we can improve relations with the group of neighbors.”

Berkeley Asphalt & Ready Mix was bought by the Hanson Company, now Lehigh Hanson, in 2005. Since 1955, the plant has been located on Virginia Street between Second Street and the railroad tracks in West Berkeley – a few blocks from the Fourth Street shopping district. The company produces asphalt daily, Monday through Friday, and occasionally on weekends, Roth said.

The smell from the asphalt is undeniable but Berkeley Asphalt is not violating its emission limits, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Berkeley Asphalt is operating in compliance with its permit, and is under its limits – even now, before transitioning to lower-emission technology, according to Aaron Richardson, a spokesman for the district. Its cancer risk threshold is “under 10 in 1 million,” said Richardson. “That’s not considered significant.”

“According to our studies, motor vehicles and trains, especially diesel trucks, pose a bigger health risk in the Bay Area, especially to people living within 1,000 feet of a highway,” he added.

The company said it has made nearly a dozen changes in the past two years to reduce noise and odors – many in response to concerns brought up by the city. The plant replaced its sound blankets to reduce noise in October 2013 and hired a professional odor consultant in September 2013, according to the city. A more complete list of the changes shows 11 efforts to reduce noise, odor and dust since September 2012.
Warm-mix asphalt produces paving material at a temperature about 50 degrees lower than the 330 degrees required for typical “hot-mix” asphalt. It reportedly performs as well as hot-mix asphalt on the road.

“The lower mixing temperatures associated with WMA (warm-mix asphalt) result in lower emissions of volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulates,” according to a UC Pavement Research Center publication. “WMA also reduces worker exposure to asphalt fumes at the plant and during the construction of the asphalt pavement.”

The European Asphalt Pavement Association reported in 2010 that warm-mix asphalt production reduces emissions by anywhere from 10% to 70%, depending on the chemical.

The warm-mix asphalt should also eventually benefit the company’s bottom line. Lower temperatures mean less fuel, and that saves money. Use of the new product has been rising fast in the United States.

A survey from the National Asphalt Pavement Association found that, in 2012, nearly one-quarter of all asphalt produced used the warm-mix technology. That was an increase of more than 400% from 2009.

“It’s been a game changer for our industry,” said Snyder of the state association.

In California, where there are about 100 asphalt plants, the new technology is just getting going, in part because Caltrans, perhaps the largest buyer, only recently approved use of warm-mix asphalt, Snyder said. He explained that asphalt production is driven by specifications from customers.

Roth said Berkeley Asphalt will spend $100,000 on new equipment this year and will begin producing the warm-mix asphalt on January 1, 2015. Initially, he expects about half of its customers to buy warm-mix, so the company is likely to continue making some hot-mix asphalt next year. It will work on educating the rest of its customers about the new product, with the idea that warm-mix asphalt production will increase over time at the Berkeley plant.

“The product is widely used and the acceptance level is growing yearly,” Roth said. If the process goes well in Berkeley, Lehigh Hanson may convert its Sunol plant to warm-mix asphalt as well, Roth said.

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