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Industry and federal funding paves the way for asphalt research

Our final asphalt product being laid on a major roadway
Our asphalt product being laid on a major roadway.

March 2021 - Anyone who has ever driven over a pothole knows Canadian roads face distinctly Canadian challenges. They must withstand extreme cold and heat and require asphalt that is neither too stiff nor too soft – the Goldilocks of asphalt, if you will. Asphalt that is too stiff will crack in the cold, and if too soft, it will permanently deform in the heat as vehicles drive over it.

Despite our unique climate, relatively little asphalt research occurs in Canada. One exception is our partnership with the University of Calgary, where Husky Asphalt, a division of a wholly owned subsidiary of Cenovus Energy, is a leader in research and innovation.

"The research conducted at the university has given us the ability to patent certain technologies," says Martin Ray, Director, Asphalt and Industrial Products. "This technology led to our breakthrough development of higher quality products like Polymer-Modified Asphalt."

Polymer-Modified Asphalt (PMA) can be flexible and may withstand extremely high and low temperatures. These properties may be able to deliver longer-lasting roads and infrastructure savings for governments. Over the years, Husky Asphalt has paved the way in moving PMA from the lab to the road.

Dr. Martin Jasso, PhD and Bituminous Materials Chair at the University of Calgary, works closely with Husky Asphalt's Technical Services and Innovation teams. "Our labs in Lloydminster and Saskatoon have the operational knowledge of crude production and refining, and the university brings the science of asphalt and polymer to the table," says Ray. "The work that Dr. Jasso and his team do is integrated into our business every day."

We invested $750,000 in the University of Calgary, which is a leading centre for asphalt research, to help further develop solutions to improve paving applications, build better roads and optimize our environmental engineering. And in the fall of 2020, the university received a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), doubling its asphalt research budget to $1.5 million.

"This grant reinforces the University of Calgary as an industry leader in asphalt performance and specification and will help support students focused on the bituminous materials industry, professional development and research into better performing material science," says Brett Lambden, Manager, Technical Services and Innovation.

Over the next five years, the additional funding will give the university's public research program the ability to invest in new equipment, support students through their studies in asphalt and investigate new materials and technologies.