Rubberised roads to boost domestic rubber usage, stabilise price

October 12, 2017

Rubberised-roadsMalaysia is set to be a leader in the construction of rubberised roads.

The technology is expected to be fully commercialised sometime next year, a move that will be welcomed by the 440,000 rubber smallholders in the country as it will boost domestic consumption of rubber and hopefully stabilise prices that have been on a downtrend due to dwindling demand

According to a press statement issued by the Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry after the International Tripartite Rubber Council (ITRC) ministerial committee meeting in Bangkok on Sept 15, Malaysia has the potential to emerge as a market leader for rubberised road construction in the region.

The ITRC comprises Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand which are among the world’s largest producers of natural rubber.

Since 2015, the Malaysian Rubber Board (MRB) and Works Ministry have been involved in a joint study to determine the effectiveness of using an innovation called Cuplump Modified Asphalt (CMA) as an asphaltic concrete to pave roads.

Cuplump is freshly coagulated rubber, where the coagulation process takes place in the cup at the tree.

The blending of cuplump and bitumen produces a binder called Cuplump Modified Bitumen (CMB), which is then mixed with gravel aggregate to produce CMA.

In its press statement, the ministry said Malaysia would promote the construction of rubberised roads in rural and urban areas as part of its efforts to strengthen and stabilise rubber prices.

Full commercialisation by mid-2018

The MRB, said the ministry, has already developed the technology and specifications for CMB as an improved binder for rubberised road construction.

It said by the end of 2017, Malaysia would have completed 28km of rubberised roads for commercial evaluation, including a three-kilometre road in TelukIntan, Perak.

MRB is currently collaborating with the Public Works Department (PWD) to establish the appropriate standards for quarry and road contractors to enable full commercialisation of the CMB technology by mid-2018.

The recent ITRC meeting was attended by Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong and his counterparts from Thailand and Indonesia.

At the meeting, Mah stressed that ITRC member countries must look at innovative measures to increase domestic rubber consumption.

He also proposed that the countries focus more on research and development and commercialisation to bring new products to the market, the statement said.

MRB deputy director-general (Research and Innovation) Dr Zairossani Mohd Nor said his agency decided to focus its research on cuplump as about 90% of Malaysia’s rubber output was in the form of coagulated rubber.

“Furthermore, 95% of the coagulated rubber comes from the smallholders. We decided to focus on coagulated rubber (to discover new innovations) as we wanted to help these smallholders,” he told Bernama during a recent interview, here.

MRB started researching on using cuplump as an additive for road construction in 2014.

Zairossani said Thailand has also developed an innovation for rubberised road using a different technology involving processed rubber.

He said Malaysia’s cuplump innovation has drawn the interest of neighbouring countries which wanted to know more about the technology but MRB was not ready to share the details as yet.

Boost domestic usage of rubber

The use of cuplump for road construction is expected to increase domestic consumption of rubber by 10% annually as approximately 4.2 tonnes of coagulated rubber will be needed for each kilometre or about 6,000m² of road constructed using the CMA technology.

“If the CMA road pavement technology is applied on five per cent to 10% of Federal roads in Peninsular Malaysia, it will boost domestic demand for rubber and help to stabilise its price,” said Zairossani.

Malaysia’s smallholders have been impacted by falling rubber prices in recent years due to declining demand for the commodity, especially from China, the world’s largest rubber consumer.

This year alone, the price of Standard Malaysian Rubber 20 dropped from RM957.23 per 100kg in January to RM626.65 per 100kg in July.

As of now, the Works Ministry has given its approval for one CMA road pavement project – the 20km-long Federal Trunk 001 road from Kampung DesaTemuJodoh to Kampung Kwong Sai in Segamat, Johor.

Regarded as PWD’s pilot project, work on this rubberised road will begin later this year.

MRB first tested the CMA technology on a one-km stretch of road at its rubber research station in Kota Tinggi, Johor, and its findings have been positive thus far.

Since 2015, the agency has been collaborating with PWD to conduct further research on the technology at three road sites in Baling (Kedah), Temerloh (Pahang) and Tampin (Negri Sembilan). Their research will be extended to another road in Kota Baru (Kelantan), which is expected to be constructed by end-2017.

Better road quality

Initial findings from its research and experiments have shown that CMA-paved roads are more durable than conventional roads, thus offering better riding quality and cost savings over the long term.

The rubberised road was also found to reduce the road noise level by three to five decibels, and improved the road’s resistance to high temperatures and crack formation.

Zairossani said while conventional roads usually have to be repaved after four or five years due to issues such as potholes, cracking and warping, the use of rubber-modified bitumen in road paving may extend the cycle of maintenance to approximately eight to 10 years.

Citing Thailand’s rubberised roads as an example, he said they have yet to be repaved as they were still in good condition although they were built some 15 years ago.

“Initially, the government may incur higher costs as it is more expensive to build rubberised roads compared to conventional ones. However, the investment is worthwhile as it will lead to substantial cost-savings over the long term.

“The (CMA) roads are of better quality and last longer, and are also safer and more comfortable for road users,” Zairossani added.

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