Building a better gravel road: How Manitoba researchers are paving the way
Published Thursday, May 16, 2019 6:33PM CST
A made-in-Manitoba product is paving the way for safer travels in rural areas.
Local researchers have come up with a way to change the makeup of unpaved roads, while also cutting back on the environmental impact.
“The dust is such a problem. It coats vegetation. It’s a problem for farmers. It obscures the vision of drivers. It’s unsafe,” said Riley Cram, geotechnical specialist with Cypher Environmental.
While Cram was getting his masters in geology at Brandon University, he was part of a research team funded by Mitacs and Cypher Environmental that studied clay components in order to launch EarthZyme locally.
EarthZyme is a soil stabilizer that was invented in Manitoba and has been used around the world to help strengthen unpaved roads at a fraction of the cost.
“What we were doing was studying the properties of clay, and how clay can be used to help stabilize and build better, stronger, more durable unpaved dirt roads,” said Cram.
“The behavior of the clay allows it to have some flex, so it can actually absorb the loads of these heavy-haul trucks that drive on it. And it can even fill in cracks, and it actually has self-healing properties.”
Teaghan Wellman, who is the vice president of research and development with Cypher Environmental, said it’s a completely Winnipeg-based system. Wellman said it was invented about 10 years ago at Red River College, in partnership with Brandon University, Cypher, and Mitacs.
“It’s all manufactured here locally, and we do try to source local, raw materials for the product as well,” said Wellman, who herself is a Red River College graduate.
While EarthZyme was made in Canada, it’s still fairly new to the local landscape. The product has primarily been used in countries with clay-rich roads, unlike Manitoba. Five years ago, the product was tested in Manitoba for the first time, and researchers are pleased with the results.
EarthZyme is being tested in the Brandon area on hauling roads, in rural municipalities like Cornwallis and Whitehead.
Cornwallis Reeve Bill Courtice said so far they’re very happy with the product and the low maintenance of it. Courtice said the only downfall at this point is the upfront costs.
Depending on the road, it can cost about $75,000 per mile – a cost which researchers say is still much cheaper than asphalt. And while it may seem expensive upfront, researchers say the savings come elsewhere.
“Basically, we’re eliminating maintenance costs associated with the road,” said Hamid Mumin, a professor with Brandon University, who has been involved in the research.
Mumin said unlike an average gravel road, which needs near-daily maintenance, these roads can go up to two years without work.
Mumin said the lifespan has also exceeded their expectations.
“We had predicated we would get at least five years, but as it stands we’re already five years into the project and it looks like we’re going to get at least 10 years and possibly more before we have to what we would call major maintenance.”
Aside from the longer lifespan, researchers say the product is environmentally friendly.
“It’s non-toxic, and it’s non-corrosive, so we’re also trying to eliminate the use of all corrosive salts on the road,” said Cram. He said those same salts also damage vehicles.
If you’re heading into rural Manitoba, you may notice the packed-down roads and the lack of dust clouds flying around.
“They are a lot stronger, a lot smoother driving surface,” said Cram. “There’s a lot less dust.”
Currently, about 10 kilometres of Manitoba roads have been treated with EarthZyme.
Researchers are now looking to bring the technology to Alberta and Saskatchewan, and eventually nationwide.