POLAND — For generations, asphalt has been made by heating rocks and sand to 300 degrees.
Pike Industries believes it can improve on that, and it has spent $7 million to prove it.
This spring, Pike replaced its Poland asphalt plant and installed technology that adds a small amount of water to hot, liquid asphalt. The water causes the liquid asphalt to foam, making it easier to compact and spread. The more smoothly asphalt spreads, the longer it lasts on the road.
The technology also allows the asphalt to be spread at a cooler temperature. The method saves Pike up to 20 percent in oil because the plant's burner doesn't have to heat the asphalt to such a high temperature and improves air quality because the cooler asphalt releases fewer emissions as it's being spread.
Pike believes it is among the first in the state to use the technology to create what is known as warm-mix asphalt.
"It's the wave of the future," Pike spokesman Jim Hanley told a group of employees and visitors touring the facility Wednesday. "Anyone who doesn't jump in is going to get left behind, so we're jumping in."
Pike has used the warm-mix asphalt on a road project in Lovell this summer. While it can use the new asphalt on other projects, Maine does not yet allow cooler asphalt to be used for state roadwork, Hanley said.
On state projects, Pike can use the new asphalt, which spreads more smoothly and lasts longer, but the company must heat it to the same temperature as the older asphalt, taking away any oil savings or air-quality improvement. The state is running pilot projects to gauge the use of cooler asphalt.
Astec Inc., the Tennessee company that produces the new asphalt technology, said it has sold about 350 warm-mix asphalt systems since it began offering them three years ago and has gotten interest from as far away as Australia.
On Wednesday, U.S. Rep Mike Michaud, D-Maine, toured Pike's facility to check out its new system. He was impressed by what he saw, he said.
A member of the Transportation Committee, he believes efficiencies in the asphalt process and longer-lasting roads help everyone.
"Potholes affect individuals," he said.