The technology will be tested on the road at Pelela where asphalt blacktopping has not worked 

Entrepreneur: In a move towards building environment friendly roads in Bhutan, a technology that uses plastic waste to blacktop roads has begun.

A trial demonstration of the technology was conducted yesterday in Thimphu on a 150 meters stretch above the automobile workshop in Olakha. It is the first time the country is using this technology.

For the demonstration, 515 kgs of plastic waste collected from Memelakha landfill was used and mixed with aggregate and bitumen. At least 10 percent of the total bitumen used is plastic.

Mixing churned plastic with asphalt and aggregate forms a compound called polymerised bitumen, which is used to blacktop roads.

It was in 2003 that Rikesh Gurung, founder of The Green Road saw plastic wastes being reused to blacktop road by Thiagarajar College of Engineering in Tamil Nadu, India.

Inspired by the technology, he took trainings and worked in India for few years after his graduation.

A decade after he first saw the technology, he began working towards his aspiration to introduce the eco-friendly technology a reality in Bhutan. After making more than 10 presentations to the department of roads and other agencies on his proposal, his project received support from the Business Opportunity and Information Centre (BOiC).

With support of Nu 5.1million (M) from BOiC, he established a factory in Bjemina industrial estate. His parents helped him with about Nu 4M.

He said that besides being water resistant, plastic roads has better binding property, higher softening point, can withstand high temperature and larger load. It also has lower penetration value, costs less than bitumen and emits no toxic gas.

“There will be no maintenance cost involved for the first five years,” Rikesh said. “A ton of bitumen will be saved for using this technology to black a kilometer of road that’s 3.5 meters wide.”

Research Scientist from Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Ramalinga Chandra Sekar is in the country to provide technical advice in blacktopping the first stretch. He said such roads have been a success in India after it was first implemented in 2002 following several tests and researches.

In the last 13 years, more than 15,000km of rural roads, those that see heavy traffic have been blacktopped using this technology.  “It is not only durable but cost effective and environment friendly,” he said.

He added that while the plain bitumen roads build with standard procedures last less than three year before potholes starts forming, plastic roads would not require maintenance for a guaranteed five years and often stretches to eight years.

In the last six months, The Green Road has collected about 15 tons of plastic wastes from Memelakha. Another five tons was bought from Greener Way at Nu 25,000 a ton.

Rikesh Gurung said that in a day they are able to collect not more than 200 kgs of plastic wastes from Memelakha. He has 10 Bhutanese employees.

Although The Green Road uses only thin plastics such as carry bags for the bituminous mix, pet bottles and hard plastic wastes will soon be used to make blocks to cover drainages in the city.

The current concrete drainage covers can withstand only about 10 tons of load, he said, while the plastic blocks will withstand 300 tons.

The Green Road will be working with Neten Construction Pvt Limited in blacktopping other roads. Proprietor Neten Wangdi said he was fascinated by the technology soon after he heard about it.

“It is such a environment friendly technology for a country that is already dedicated towards conserving the environment,” he said.

Should everything go well, they would begin blacktopping the Pelela road where normal asphalt blacktopping has failed because of the extreme cold climate.

The Green Road initiated the trail yesterday with support from Department of Roads, Construction Development Corporation Ltd and Neten Construction Pvt Ltd.

The technology is dedicated to the 60th birth anniversary  of The Fourth Druk Gyalpo.

Nirmala Pokhrel