May 15, 2012

Cement to replace Bitumen

The poor state of our roads has caught the attention of Cement Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (CMAN). At a one-day conference on Exploring cement-based option for sustainable road construction in Nigeria , held in conjunction with Business Day newspaper, they argued that having exceeded the local cement need, exploring cement based construction may hold the key to good and motorable roads. But experts have called for caution in its implementation to save the housing sector from crisis.

WITH 200,000 kilometres of roads, Nigeria can be said to be among countries with vast networks of roads. That is where it ends because most of the roads have become impassable. Of these roads, the Federal Government owns 18 per cent, states, 15 per cent and local governments, 67 per cent.

To improve the roads, the government is exploring Public Private Partnership (PPP) and collaborating with multilateral agencies. But cement producers believe that the commodity could go a long way in the government’s bid to rehabilitate them.

According to them, having met local consumption in cement, the excess could be deployed in road construction. CMAN Chairman, Mr Joseph Makoju said the group has witnessed installed local cement production capacity rise from about 3.0 metric tonnes per annum in 2003 to 28.0 metric tonnes. 

With this, he said, the nation has moved from being the world’s leading importer of cement in 2006 to that self sufficient today. He added that the nation has the poential of being net based on the exporter of the product based on the government’s 2002 policy on backward integration.He noted that the nation has been constructing roads with asphalt or laterite when cement could do the job better.

He said: "The major cause for the collapse of our road network has been identified as our poor maintenance culture. In search for a cost effective solution, it was natural therefore to search for an alternative surfacing material which when compared with asphalt will require minimal maintenance hence our interest in cement concrete roads for Nigeria. Benchmarking against international practice, it is worthy to note that about 40 per cent of the roads in developed countries such as US, Germany etc are made of cement concrete, where as it is only about two per cent in emerging economy countries such as India and less than 0.1 in Nigeria." 

He revealed that CMAN is not without an enlightened self interest in promoting the use of cement for concrete road construction but added that the summit is not in any way geared toward a marketing campaign to expand sales of cement but sees the gathering as a serious contribution to finding a cost effective and sustainabe solution to the problem of the nation’s collapsed national road network. In his address ,Ogun State Governor Ibukunle Amosun, while commending the thought behind the summit, advised stakeholders to look critically at the volume of cement being produced in the country to ensure that construction projects in other sectors apart from roads do not suffer a shortfall as a result of this innovation.

The governor, represented by the Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Otunba Bimbo Ashiru, said as a state involved in massive infrastructure development any technology that will make construction of roads in the state cheaper and better will be fully embraced and supported by the administration.

Minister of Works, Mr Mike Onolemehen, in his keynote address, said government has identified inadequate planning, poor design, ineffective supervision, lack of strong quality assuarance and inadequate funding as some of the challenges affecting the nation’s road infrastructure.

He said though flexible asphaltic pavement and concrete rigid pavement are the most common they all pose different challenges.  He said: " It is well known that while the design life of concrete roads is between 35 and 50 years as against 20 to 25 years for flexible asphalt pavement, the cost of concrete roads is considerably high. However, the concrete pavement requires less frequent maintenance." 

In his remarks, Governor Babatunde Fashola noted that extensive importation of cement prior to recent events in the industry has made the option very expensive. He, however, added that availability in right quantity and specification makes cement utilisation option more attractive to government. While stating that technical, environmental and user friendly quantities of pavement roads make it an interesting option, Fashola said the views of the summit and its recommendations will go a long way in assisting the government to move in this direction.

In a swift reaction, National Publicity Secretary, Nigeria Institute of Building (NIOB), Mr Kunle Awobodu said the nation is yet to feel the impact of the claims of CMAN on meeting local demand of cement needs of the people as a bag still sells for between N1,900 and N2,000 in certain places in Lagos. He said the suggestion to use concrete in road construction can be best described as an acedemic exercise as the group is yet to satisfy the building sector. 

He said: "We will be happy if the price of cement is reduced considerably and people are able to build their houses then we can support it being used for road construction. Cement no doubt is more durable than asphalt though more expensive. We are where we are today in terms of the quality of our roads because we have failed to exploit the large bitumen deposit and our roads are left to deteriorate with no maintenance culture." 

The NIOB boss warned that possible reduction of the price of cement in the coming months should not be mistaken for availability, rather because of the approach of rainy season which usually dampens construction activity. Awobodu stressed that any analysis during the rainy season on cement will be based on false and spurious judgement which cannot stand the test of time.

According to him, if the new line of thinking is pursued by the government, the housing sector will suffer because people cannot afford the cement they need to build their houses.A highway engineer, Afolabi Adedeji, said the argument on concrete based option for the nation roads is not out of place as it is in use in advanced countries. 

On some of the advantages of concrete based options, he said it lasts from 40 years and above while asphalt is for 10 to 15 years making it more durable for construction though more expensive. 

He said: "Asphlat based road can be used after three to four hours of application while concrete based roads takes about 28 days to develop full strenght which delays road construction except additives are added to make it firm up. In places where they can afford to put the road out of use for a long time its more advisable to use concrete based".

Source - The Nation

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