GREENSBORO -- Swine waste and asphalt aren't words you'd expect to find in the same conversation but a North Carolina A&T State University professor believes she's got a solution for disposing of swine waste and dealing with the high cost of paving roads and parking lots. She plans to channel her research into a new commercial venture that could prove beneficial to both the construction and agriculture industries.
Ellie Fini says swine waste can be converted to yield a binding, or adhesive, material that can replace a petroleum derivative that now makes up about 7 percent of asphalt and that has driven up asphalt's cost.
"We don't have enough supply of quality asphalt and the price is going up and we also depend on the foreign resources," said Fini, an assistant professor of civil engineering.
Fini said wine waste binder costs about 54 cents per gallon compared to $2 per gallon for the petroleum binder. She said the construction industry liked it because it is cheaper and more eco-friendly and is more durable in cold weather.
"Regions like Massachusetts or Michigan they get very cold winters, they like it because it reduced the cracking at cold temperatures," she said.
Many farmers use swine waste as fertilizer. Fini said removing the adhesive, which is primarily carbon, yields a condensed solution of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.
"They see the benefit of using the condensed fertilizer, which is also easier to apply on the land because it has less soil, is more nutrient and is easier to pump," she said.
Fini hopes to produce and market the binding material with a company she's tentatively named PiGrid. A partner would handle business development.
"You have a product. You produce it in a lab scale. But the question is how to produce in high volume or mass production," said Mahour Mellat-Parast, an assistant professor of technology management.
The idea is still in the early stages, to be sure, but Fini said if all went as planned the long term impact on the production and the cost of asphalt could be significant.
"At full capacity we can cover around 20 to 30 percent of the whole supply of asphalt, so, that would be a significant impact on the industry," she said.
Fini said the binder had other potential uses and could replace adhesives commonly found in carpeting, roofing materials and insulation. She'd like to court investors and partners to get the company off the ground both in the United States and abroad.