October 24, 2012

Suncor Energy Achieves full bitumen production

Suncor Energy says bitumen production from the first three phases of its Firebag in situ project in Alberta reached design capacity of 120,000 b/d at the end of year’s third quarter, during which steaming began of wells in the project’s fourth phase (OGJ Online, July 28, 2011).

Third-quarter average production was 113,000 b/d at the Firebag complex, more than double the output during the comparable quarter of 2011.

Firebag, in the northern Athabasca oil sands region, produces via steam-assisted gravity drainage supplemented by infill wells to lower steam-oil ratios.

Suncor expects the fourth phase of production to begin by yearend. It expects total Firebag production to reach 180,000 b/d when the fourth phase reaches capacity.

 By OGJ editors

October 23, 2012

Albanian Bitumen for Bulgaria

Bulgaria: Bulgarian PM Woos Albania with 'Asphalt Diplomacy'
Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov (right) and Albanian PM Sali Berisha (left) in Tirana, Monday, Oct 22, 2012. Photo by EPA/BGNES 
Bulgarian Prime Miinister Boyko Borisov has declared during a visit in Tirana that Bulgaria would like to buy as much bitumen, or asphalt, as Albania can provide.

Borisov, whose major landmark policy as a prime minister has been the construction of highways in Bulgaria, was on a state visit in Albania on Monday, meeting with Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha.
The other highlight of the talks between Borisov and Berisha in Tirana was an understanding that Bulgaria and Albania will be working together to complete the railway section of the largely imaginary Pan-European Transport Corridor No. 8, which is supposed to become a major international trading route between Europe and East and Central Asia, running from Bulgaria's Black Sea coast to Albania's Adriatic coast.

Amidst the signing of a total of three inter-governmental agreement, including a trading and economic relations agreement, Albania's PM Berisha described the talks with the Bulgarian delegation as very friendly and fruitful, as cited by Darik Radio.

"We want bitumen; we will get as much as you have to offer," Bulgaria's PM told his Albanian counterpart.
"They can be exporting bitumen to Bulgaria. They have the best bitumen, it's natural. There are so many roads in Bulgaria built with Albanian bitumen that haven't had a scratch in 30 years. We need it, we will get as much as we can," Borisov stated, smiling.

He further noted that Bulgaria was one of the EU member states that support the liberalization of the EU visa regime for the citizens of Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia.

"I am personally very satisfied with when Prime Minister Berisha told me that in Kosovo the Christian monuments and monasteries are being protected and preserved, and I truly hope that together with Serbia and Macedonia we will be able to build our large infrastructure projects," the Bulgarian PM added.
Borisov's visit in Tirana did not go without a translation blunder as at the beginning of the Prime Ministers' joint news conference the interpreter presented Borisov as "Boyko Dimitrov".

Later on Monday, Borisov and Berisha opened an Albanian-Bulgarian business forum in Tirana.
On a different matter, namely, the use of the Bulgarian government plane, which in August was revealed to have been lent by Borisov to his amateur football team, the Bulgarian government raised eyebrows again as its delegation arrived in Tirana by two military transport planes Spartan of the Bulgarian Air Force, as the Bulgarian government plane had taken President Rosen Plevneliev to Israel earlier on Monday.

Source- Novinite.comhttp://www.novinite.com/view_news.php?id=144387 

October 22, 2012

Bitumen from Tar Sands

I am a fifth-grader going to Walker Upper Elementary School. My friend and I are doing a project on the Athabasca Tar Sands. It is an independent project from school. I became interested in the Athabasca Tar Sands when my grandfather and step-grandmother went to the White House to protest against the Canadian pipeline.

This is what we found out. Tar sands are bitumen, which is a very high-viscosity petroleum, mixed with sand, water and clay. First, the oil drilling company has to remove the sand, water and clay from the bitumen and then has to dilute the bitumen and pump it out. After that, they have to pump out the water or natural gas used in diluting. Then they process the bitumen into conventional crude oil. This part of the process emits some greenhouse gases. Two tons of tar sands equal one barrel of oil (42 gallons).

The company may also use propane gas to dilute the bitumen to pump it out. This is a costly way to go but more environmental and efficient. The propane gas used can be recycled (another benefit). Not many companies use this method right now but maybe the public can persuade them to change.

When companies use water to extract and dilute the bitumen, the water becomes polluted. The water usually comes from a stream, so the fish living in it may die because of the toxic metals in the water. Some researchers found that a moose near the stream flowing from the tar sands had abnormal rates of arsenic in its body. Fish embryos were also shown to have a deformity rate when exposed to tar sands chemicals. The humans living near the excavation site and contaminated river can be negatively affected. They may have higher rates of cancer than normal.

As I said earlier, the production of bitumen emits greenhouse gases. It actually emits more than the production of regular crude oil. The emissions are 20 percent greater when producing bitumen versus regular oil.

The Athabasca Tar Sands are also very close to Wood Buffalo National Park and that will endanger the health and well-being of the animals.

My friend and I personally don’t agree with further production of tar sands because, even with the propane gas method, the companies are still adding more oil to the world to burn and pollute with.

October 19, 2012

Shell exiting Vietnam bitumen Market

After pulling its LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) business out of Vietnam last week, Dutch energy and petrochemical company Shell is considering selling its two bitumen manufacturing plants in the country as well.

Shell currently runs one bitumen plant at the Go Dau Industrial Park in the southern province of Dong Nai, and one at the Cua Lo park in the northern province of Nghe An.

The Dutch company is reevaluating its bitumen sector in Vietnam, which is also included in its business strategy of withdrawing from liquefied petroleum gas, said Le Duy Thanh, CEO of Shell Vietnam.

Shell is aiming to develop in fewer markets but at a larger scale, Shell Vietnam said in a statement sent to its dealers nationwide when announcing the withdrawal on October 10.

Shell has transferred its entire share in a joint-venture in Hai Phong, and a Ho Chi Minh City-based company, 100 percent of whose stake it held, to Thailand’s Siam Gas Co, officially becoming the third global LPG brand names to leave the country, after Mobile Unique Gas and Castrol BP Petco.

The company is eying doubling its growth in the lubricant oil sector by 2015, and wants to enter the fuel market, if permitted by Vietnamese laws.

At present, only state-run enterprises are allowed to operate as fuel wholesalers, which import and distribute petroleum and oil commodities in Vietnam.

Source -Tuoitre News

Cement as an Alternative to Bitumen- Cost Considerations

Tarmac has set up a new business unit specialising in the production and supply of cement-bound and recycled materials.

Tarmac Pavement Solutions will also offer the FoamMaster system  

Tarmac Pavement Solutions, part of the company’s National Contracting division, aims to help customers beat the rising cost of bitumen on highways schemes.

With bitumen prices up 60% in the last two years, Tarmac Pavement Solutions has been set up to help cut the cost of new build road construction and resurfacing projects using cement-bound or recycled asphalt systems.

Cement-bound pavements are an alternative to bitumen-based materials. They consist of a hydraulic-bound mixture used as the base layer - predominantly a cement-bound granular material - that is then surfaced with conventional asphalt.

Cement-bound roads can be designed to give equivalent service life performance to both conventional asphalt and rigid concrete pavements, Tarmac said.

Tarmac Pavement Solutions division will be managed by Richard Vine, National Contracting regional firector. In addition to a range of cementitious solutions, it will also offer TarmacDry porous asphalt and the long-established FoamMaster system, a road surfacing process that uses road arisings in cold-mix production to create an energy-efficient alternative to traditional hot asphalt.

Mr Vine said: “With bitumen accounting for around a third of the cost of building a new road, its price volatility means that the sector must embrace cement-bound materials and reduce its reliance on bitumen. Driving greater uptake of recycled asphalt is also key to cutting costs and meeting environmental targets and our new service builds upon our extensive expertise in this area.

“We also believe that the durability of cement-bound material provides commercial opportunities in sectors such as ports and aviation.”

Source - Constuctionindex.co.uk

October 15, 2012

Oil Spill

The hidden, long-term effects of the 2010 pipeline accident that spilled more than a million gallons of heavy Canadian crude oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River became public last week when the EPA revealed that large amounts of oil are still accumulating in three areas of the river.The problem is so serious that the EPA is asking Enbridge Inc., the Canadian pipeline operator, to dredge approximately 100 acres of the river. During the original cleanup effort, dredging was limited to just 25 acres because the EPA wanted to avoid destroying the river’s natural ecology. The additional work could take up to a year and add tens of millions of dollars to a cleanup that has already cost Enbridge $809 million.

The EPA notified Enbridge of its proposed order on Oct. 3, saying the additional clean-up is “critical” and the work “should be conducted in an expeditious manner” to remove the oil before it recontaminates the river.

“The increased accumulation demonstrates that submerged oil is mobile and migrating, evidencing that submerged oil removal is warranted to prevent downstream migration … ,” Ralph Dollhopf, the EPA’s on-scene coordinator and Incident Commander, said in the letter notifying Enbridge of the agency’s findings.
In June an InsideClimate News investigation revealed that the cleanup of the Kalamazoo has been unusually difficult, because the pipeline that ruptured was carrying dilbit, a mixture of heavy Canadian bitumen that has been diluted with liquid chemicals, some of them toxic. Bitumen, also known as tar sands oil, has the consistency of peanut butter and is too heavy to flow through pipelines without being thinned with chemicals. When Pipeline 6B split open, the chemicals began evaporating and the reconstituted bitumen began sinking to the river’s bottom.

“More than two years after the spill of diluted bitumen, this proposed order demonstrates that EPA is still tackling the problem of how to remove the heavy oil from the Kalamazoo River,” said Sara Gosman, an adjunct professor of environmental law and policy at the University of Michigan Law School.

The EPA’s determination that more cleanup is needed was based on the findings of a year-long survey of nearly 6,000 locations along the 40 miles of river contaminated when pipeline 6B ruptured in July 2010. Enbridge has until next week to request a conference with the EPA to discuss the additional work and 30 days to submit written comments.

Steve Hamilton, a Michigan State University professor who was among the experts who worked on the study, said the recommendation for dredging was driven by concern that during flooding the pools of oil could break loose and recontaminate parts of the river that have already been cleaned—or flow downriver into areas that were never touched by the gooey oil.
Illustration of Line 6B rupture site. Photo: Catherine Mann.

“We will never get all of the oil out [of the river]. It’s impossible,” Hamilton said. “The challenge is to determine when do you get to a point of diminishing returns where the eradication is too environmentally destructive to warrant the removal.”

A spokesman for the EPA said the agency would not have any comment beyond the information contained in its proposed order and the letter it sent to Enbridge.

The EPA acknowledged in the proposed order that Enbridge had conducted substantial cleanup since the pipeline ruptured, but “despite these response actions, oil remains in the Kalamazoo River.”
Enbridge did not respond to requests for comment for this story. But in an Aug. 24 letter to the EPA, the company said it did not believe that more dredging—especially in the area near the Ceresco Dam—was necessary.

“Enbridge’s position is that we have reached a point of diminishing returns where further invasive activities would do more harm than good,” Richard Adams, Enbridge’s vice president of field operation in the United States, said in the letter.

“In fact, we strongly believe that such action solely for the purpose of aesthetics would both negatively impact the riverine environment and create a significant disturbance and inconvenience to local landowners and other river users.”

The company also disputed the EPA’s concern that oil is still pooling in the river, especially near the Ceresco Dam. “[T]he most significant evidence of submerged oil has been sheen which, when collected, has amounted to a volume of less than 1 gallon of product in total during 2012,” Adams wrote, referring to the area around the dam.

Deb Miller, who lives near the dam in the community of Ceresco said she sees rainbow sheens of oil floating on the surface when she walks along the river near the carpet store she and her husband own. Recently she ran a garden rake along the river’s bottom and said that marble-sized globs of oil popped to the surface, accompanied by the sour whiff of petroleum.

“It’s insane how much oil is still here,” said Miller, who has testified before Congress about the spill’s impact on her life.

Dilbit: The Unknown Factor
The National Transportation Safety Board blasted Enbridge in July for a “complete breakdown of safety” in the 2010 disaster, which is considered the largest inland oil pipeline spill in U.S. history. The report criticized the company for failing to make repairs despite knowing of the defects five years before the rupture. The Department of Transportation also imposed a record $3.7 million civil penalty. Enbridge paid the fine last month.

Enbridge has proposed replacing the entire 210-mile length of 6B from Indiana to Ontario, Canada, at a cost of $1.3 billion. But the project has faced resistance from landowners who are fighting the company’s efforts to condemn their land and from lawsuits claiming Enbridge hasn’t complied with all state and local regulations and environmental laws.

The study of the contaminated 40-mile section of the Kalamazoo that resulted in the EPA’s directive began in 2011 and ended in August.The EPA enlisted 14 federal, state and local organizations—including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality—to perform the study as part of a Net Environmental Benefit Analysis to ensure the ongoing cleanup was sufficient and further ecological damage from the spill would be minimized.

Hamilton, the Michigan State University professor of ecology and environment, joined the team as a representative of the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council. He has done extensive research on the river and its flood plain and spoke to InsideClimate News not as a representative of the EPA but as one of the individual scientists who worked on the investigation.

Hamilton said the study relied on a technique called poling, where a long pole is used to churn up the bottom of the river to see if oil or residue floats to the surface. He said the poling identified about two dozen sections of the river where enough oil remained to be of concern. With those areas in mind, the scientists used a model of the river to simulate floods equal to the high water marks of the last 100 years, five years and the highest flood mark since the spill.

They were particularly attentive to the hundred year flood levels despite the statistical improbability of such a flood occurring.

“With climate change it might be more possible than the record might indicate,” Hamilton said.
The recommendation for dredging was based on factors beyond aesthetics, Hamilton said. One of the scientists’ primary worries was that not much is known about dilbit.

“This kind of crude oil is a complex mix of hundreds of compounds—some known to be toxic—that has not been studied much,” he said. “We just don’t understand the consequences well enough.”
Congress has ordered a study, which is being conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, to determine whether dilbit is more likely than conventional oil to corrode pipelines. The study isn’t expected to be finished until the summer of 2013.

Three Areas at Risk
The investigators decided that “sheen management”—a technique that uses booms to contain oil floating to the surface—was appropriate for most of the sections where they found pools of oil. But they concluded that dredging was the only solution for three areas of the river between Marshall and Kalamazoo, Mich. The vulnerable areas are upstream of Ceresco Dam, upstream of the Battle Creek Dam in the Mill Ponds area, and in the delta upstream of Morrow Lake. Together, they cover about 100 acres, an area about the size of 75 football fields.

Near the Ceresco Dam, the investigators discovered the area of submerged oil had increased from 20 acres to 23.5 aces and that oil globules were floating to the surface, according to the EPA’s proposed order.
Because that area was subjected to what the EPA called “highly effective” dredging in 2010, the agency concluded that additional dredging would prove successful. The earlier dredging project lasted about three weeks and crews carted away 5,500 cubic yards of oil-soaked sediment from the river bottom, enough to fill 27 semi-trailers. An estimated 14 million gallons of water was decontaminated and returned to the river.
Mill Pond, the second section of the river cited for intense cleanup, presented more of a quandary for the EPA. Some sections shouldn’t be dredged, the agency decided, because the digging and scraping would do too much damage to the sensitive ecology and because the submerged oil wasn’t likely to move down river.
At the third proposed cleanup site, the Delta just upstream from Morrow Lake, the investigators discovered a “substantial expansion” of the submerged oil, with the plume now covering most of the two-mile length of the delta, an area of about 55.5 acres.

Hamilton said the scientists decided dredging was needed, because floods might dislodge the submerged oil and allow it to flow into a part of the Kalamazoo River unblemished by the spill.
“It would be wise to get at it now when it’s practical before it either becomes lodged in small backwater areas or migrates into areas where oil has not been previously discovered,” he said.

 By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News

October 13, 2012

Canada's Bitumen for India

Although China gets most attention as an alternative buyer of heavy oil from Alberta, Canada’s top energy official has taken a trip that deserves notice.

The oil-craving Chinese government looks longingly at the vast oil sands resource of Alberta and has financed large investments by state-owned companies in Canadian bitumen producers and projects. CNOOC Ltd.’s July proposal to buy Nexen for $15 billion is a standout example.

Canada has reciprocated the interest since the US, its default market, turned balky about extending the Keystone pipeline system to serve high-conversion refineries on the Gulf Coast.
Canada’s China option, though, is no sure thing.

An increase in westbound exports depends on completion of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline. The pipeline would carry 525,000 b/d of Albertan oil to Kitimat, BC, but faces environmental opposition.

Furthermore, the ability of Chinese refineries to process Canadian bitumen remains limited to “a few hundred thousand barrels per day,” according to a China National Petroleum Corp. vice-president who spoke at the Oil Sands & Heavy Oil Technologies Conference last July.

All of that makes a foray by Canadian Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver to India especially interesting.

“Canada is well-positioned to fulfill India’s rapidly increasing need for energy, minerals, metals, and wood products,” Oliver said, specifically mentioning his country’s potential as an exporter of LNG.
But India is a market for bitumen, too.

At least seven of India’s 21 refineries have coking capacity, including 305,000 b/d at Reliance Industries Ltd.’s 12.4 million-b/d Jamnagar refining complex and a new 150,000 b/d at Essar Oil Ltd.’s nearby 405,000-b/d Vadinar facility. The refineries are on the Gulf of Kutch in the western Indian state of Gujarat.
Bitumen sales might not be the main subject Oliver takes up with Indian Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Shri Jaipal Reddy. But they probably are on the agenda.

Canada knows the value of multiple markets. It learned the lesson from a traditional customer acting like it doesn’t want the oil.

 By Bob Tippee
OGJ Editor
(Online Oct. 12, 2012; author’s e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

October 9, 2012

New Bitumen Plant for Cameroon

The government of Cameroon has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with an Indian firm, Seftech India Private Limited, for it to carry out feasibilities studies for the setting up of a bitumen plant for the production of material for all-weather roads in the country. Energy and Water Resources Minister, Basile Atangana Kouna, and Seftech India Private Limited's Executive Director, Ranjeet Chaturvedi, signed the agreement in Yaounde on September 4.

In a speech, Dr Atangana Kouna noted that in this era of Greater Accomplishments, bitumen constitutes one of the major inputs in the infrastructural projects. "However, Cameroon still relies only on imports for its bitumen needs. This contributes to the very high cost of some of our infrastructural projects and greatly limits our capacity to develop and expand our road network," he said. Statistic from the Ministry of Public Works, the Minister indicated, shows that the country currently consumes about 40,000 tons of bitumen a year and is expected to increase with the announced major road works underway.

The feasibility studies will be based on 100,000 metric tons per annum capacity plant to be located either onsite or offsite SONARA facilities in Limbe, South West Region. "If the studies are conclusive, Seftech has undertaken to help the government of Cameroon obtain the necessary financial resources from the Indian Exim Bank with a possibility of signing a service contract with Cameroon under a Design, Build and Transfer (DBT) agreement. It is going to be the first bitumen plant in the whole of Central Africa and it is our hope to become a major supplier of bitumen to neighbouring countries in the nearest future," the Minister said. The terms of the agreement also stipulate that Seftech can identify a potential site for the setting up of the bitumen plant, if the same cannot be undertaken under the expansion plans of SONARA refinery. It will also select a Bitumen Reactor Licensor, basic engineering package, front and engineering design, detailed engineering as well as the project's financing.

According to Ranjeet Chaturvedi, the project is targeted to be completed by 2015 if all studies are conducted within the framework of the MoU and if financing is arranged subsequently.

Source- AllAfrica.com 

October 8, 2012

Cleaning Up the Bitumen Spill

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered Enbridge back to the site of the largest onshore oil spill in U.S. history to clean up remaining pools of bitumen in the Kalamazoo River.Despite an unprecedented $800-million two year clean-up of one million gallons of oil (200,000 gallons more than Enbridge reported spilled), the EPA is still finding submerged bitumen contaminating a 38 mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River.

The beleaguered proponent of the controversial Northern Gateway project has ten days to respond or to submit work plans to clean up the remaining bitumen contamination.

According to the EPA submerged oil and/or oil-contaminated sediment is still generating an oil sheen on the river or whenever globules are disturbed by motor boat engines.

The rupture, which has sparked a national debate about pipeline safety, was the result of gross negligence. It actually took the company 17 hours to identify the toxic leak which poisoned several hundred people.
The National Transportation Safety Board found that Enbridge's 2010 pipeline rupture in Michigan was totally preventable. It also lambasted Enbridge for its "culture of deviance" on pipeline safety, and criticized the performance of weak regulators.

Once the pipeline ruptured the company failed to respond to the emergency with either adequate manpower or proper spill containment methods. Much of the bitumen, a heavy oil, sank to the bottom of the river while the condensate evaporated into the air making hundreds of people sick.

Instead of concentrating at the source of its spill, initial responders used booms nearly eight miles downstream. As a result more oil contaminated more wetlands and waterways, resulting in a $800 million clean-up or "five times more costly than any other accident."

At the beginning of the emergency Enbridge also used the wrong spill technology at the wrong place and at the wrong time. "It did not have adequate response on site." Nor did local responders have access to Enbridge's response plans.

Due to a series of repeated errors in the company's Edmonton-based pipeline control room the NTSB described the entire disaster an example of an "organizational accident" due to "team performance breakdown."

After the $800-million clean-up, pipeline lobbyists claimed that Enbridge had scrubbed and polished the Kalamazoo river so thoroughly that the company had left river cleaner than before the spill.
Enbridge press releases claim that the company has beefed up its pipeline integrity programs and “placed a renewed emphasis on the safety of our overall system.”

Source- The Tyee
Calgary-based journalist Andrew Nikiforuk is a regular contributor to The Tyee on energy issues.

October 2, 2012

Concrete or Asphalt - Besides the Economy

One of the questions you’ll hear drivers and crew chiefs asked a lot this weekend at Dover is how the concrete track affects the racing.  Here’s how:
 Concrete and asphalt are father and son.  They have in common what you and would call it “rocks”, but professionals call it “aggregate”.  Aggregate comes in a huge variety of types, depending on the materials from which the rocks are made, the quality of the material, the size of the rocks and the distribution of sizes of the rocks.

  Asphalt vs. Concrete

Concrete is an technically any mixture of rocks aggregate stuck together with a binder.  The type of binder determines the properties of the concrete and even the color.

Concrete is the oldest engineered construction material, dating back to the Roman Empire.   The reason only parts of the Roman Colosseum and the Pantheon are missing have more to do with humans than the failure of the materials.  Today’s concrete is more than ten times stronger than the version the Romans developed.
The most common binder in the concrete used in roads, parking lots and sidewalks is Portland cement.  Portland cement (and its close relatives) are mixtures of  limestone and clay, which are crushed to a powder and heated to over 2700 degrees Fahrenheit.  This is the form you buy it in.  To use is, you reconstitute the dry powder with water, and the individual grains form calcium-silicate-hydrate (C-S-H) bonds that make a very strong glue.

Asphalt is a type of concrete, that uses bitumen — tarry black stuff — to hold it all together.   A typical composition for asphalt is 80% aggregate, 15% binder and 5% air voids.  Bitumen comes from the heaviest components of crude oil, and has the consistency of molasses (which is why it has to be heated before being used).   Because bitumen derives from oil, the price of asphalt changes with the price of oil.

But Which is Better?

As with most “which is better”, the answer depends on what you what to use it for.  The primary difference between asphalt and concrete is the rigidity of the two materials and how they distribute the load over the base on which they are laid.   The more rigid the pavement, the more the load is distributed over the surface when something like a car move over it.

Asphalt, which is more flexible (relative to concrete), transmits higher, more concentrated loads to the base, as shown below.  I’ve drawn the stress distributions in red.  The concrete spreads out the stress over a larger area, while the asphalt transmits stress to a narrows area.  The narrower area and the same load means that the stress is more concentrated.

Because concrete is stronger, asphalt has to be thicker to get the same rigidity.  Asphalt does have an advantage, however, in that its flexibility allows it to expand and contract with temperature changes with less cracking.  Even so, concrete lasts 10-15 years longer than asphalt.

Asphalt is the traditional material for paved racing surfaces.  Only three Sprint Cup tracks feature concrete:  Dover, Martinsville and Bristol.  They have in common that they are all tracks of one mile or less with significant banking.  (OK – you may not view the 12 degree banking at Martinsville as ‘significant’, but those 12 degrees are the reason the corners are concrete while the rest of the track is asphalt.  The stress on the pavement in the corners necessitated replacing the original asphalt with concrete.)

Dover is one mile with 24-degree banking and Bristol is a little more than a half mile with 24-28 degree banking.  The steep banking and the tight curves make keeping asphalt in good racing condition a challenge.  Having concrete also gives a track a unique character – as well as the opportunity to have a really cool monster statue outside.

How Concrete Changes Racing

 Grip Level
The grip level can be very different between asphalt and concrete, depending on a lot of factors.   Concrete is inherently more grainy, and its surface can be patterned to create more grip.  Drivers talk about bumps in asphalt as being large and wavy, while bumps in concrete they describe as  more vibrational.  Concrete usually has to be laid down in sections, which means you can have those bumps like you find between slabs on a sidewalk.  The picture at left shows the Google Earth view of Dover’s surface and you can see the individual slabs.

The grip on an asphalt  track depends  on the type of aggregate used, the degree of wear and the character of the bitumen.

For example, Atlanta has a very rough surface because its bitumen wears faster than the aggregate, as I’ve shown at right.   When an asphalt track is first laid down, the surface is very level.  As the bitumen wears away, the tops of the uppermost layer of aggregate are exposed.  The sharp edges of the aggregate are worn down by the tires rubbing against the rocks, but the aggregate sticking out provides a lot of grip.  Eventually, enough bitumen wears away that the aggregate starts coming out, which weakens how well the track holds together and necessitates a re-pave.

Concrete doesn’t wear as fast as asphalt and thus the grip level doesn’t change as much over long periods of time.

Light and Heat

Would you believe that the color of the track makes a big difference in how the track races?
Light comes in a range of wavelengths from smaller than billionths of a meter to larger than billions of meters long.  Our eyes detect a very, very small fraction of that electromagnetic radiation in the nanometer (billionth of a meter) range.  From red to violet, the wavelength ranges from about 800 nanometers to 400 nanometers.  The light from the Sun contains a wide range of wavelengths, including ultraviolet light (UV) (which is smaller wavelength than visibile light), all the colors of the rainbow, and lots of infrared  (IR) radiation.

Our eyes don’t detect the UV or IR light – we see the mixture of all the different colors of light together, which makes white.  Artificial light (like fluorescent) generates a different mixture of wavelengths, which is why it looks different than sunlight.

You see the colors of objects because all materials absorb some wavelengths (colors) of light and reflect others.  When light hits a red object, as I’ve shown at left, all colors except red are absorbed and what comes to your eyes is just the red light.

White surfaces reflect a wide spectrum of wavelengths and absorb very little of the spectrum.  The light that is incident on a white surface is reflected back to our eyes and the broad spectrum of wavelengths we see as ‘white’.  Black is the opposite:  black absorbs a lot of different wavelengths, so very little reflects back to our eyes and we get black.

In addition to the visible light, the spectrum from the sun includes the aforementioned ultraviolet  and infrared waves.  Infrared radiation has longer wavelengths than red light.  We don’t see it – we sense it as heat.  You’ll notice that the lamps they use to keep food warm always have a red glow:  they output some visible light, but they mostly output heat .  You will never see food being kept warm by blue light.
How is all this relevant to a racecar?

Put a piece of black paper and a piece of white paper in the Sun and feel their surfaces after a few hours.   The black paper absorbs a lot of the radiation from the Sun and gets very warm.  The white paper doesn’t absorb as much of the Sun’s energy (although it does absorb some), so it stays relatively cooler.  If you measure the temperature of a track over the course of a race, it can change by tens of degrees depending on the weather.

One effect of the changing temperature is how hot the tires get.  If the track is 60 degrees vs. 120 degrees Fahrenheit, that generates a very noticeable level of change in the grip.  But even more importantly, bitumen (the binder in asphalt) is a petroleum product.  As the temperature rises, oils in the bitumen get warmer and make the track more slippery.   Portland cement is crushed-up rocks which (when dry) are not slippery at all.

The end result is that, a concrete track doesn’t change over the course of a race nearly as much as an asphalt track.  Crew chiefs say that the track at Dover is easier to ‘keep up with’ because changes in temperature over the course of the race don’t change the racing surface as much with concrete as they do with asphalt tracks.

The Nature of Friction

There are two types of friction .  The first, called abrasive friction, is the one you learned about in school.  This is the type of friction between sandpaper on a wood block.  The second kind (which I never know about until I wrote The Physics of NASCAR) is adhesive friction, which is the molecular-level stickiness of the track combining with the molecular-level stickiness of the tires.  The heat generated by the tires makes the topmost layer of the track gooey.  The outermost layer of the tire also becomes gooey, resulting in an effect very much like chewing gum stuck on your shoe on a hot sidewalk.  The gooeyness of the track  bonds with the gooeyness of the tires for microseconds and resists forward motion.  That’s grip.
The nature of adhesive friction on asphalt is very different than on concrete because the two materials are so very different.  Concrete has much less adhesive friction.  This doesn’t change the grip level so much (because the abrasive frictions are different) – however, it does make a big difference in what happens when you lose grip. Think about sticking a weight to a piece of wood with gum.  The asphalt surface would be really sticky gum and the concrete surface would be dried up, not-very-sticky gum.  If you turn the wood so that the surface is vertical, the stickier gum is going to hold better.
In terms of a racecar, Mark Martin pointed out:
“… when you lose grip on a concrete surface, you feel like you just got cut loose from a rope. It’s amazing. It’s like losing half of your grip, rather than about 20 or 30 percent that you lose on asphalt.”
All the drivers’ intuitions that are developed on asphalt – which comprise the vast majority of NASCAR tracks – are thus challenged when they drive on concrete.

So there you have it – not necessarily better or worse, just different.


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