Material derived from mining is tested on Minnesota roads

Larry Zanko, a senior researcher program manager for NRRI, is pictured testing the temperature reading at a spot in the road where a portion of a road was repaired with a product developed at NRRI that is derived of by-products of the mining industry.

A new material developed to repair roads, which is derived from by-products of the mining, is having some favorable results and may soon be commercialized.

Larry Zanko, a senior research program manager for the University of Minnesota Duluth Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI), said in a recent interview with the Tribune Press that researchers there began working with the Minnesota Department of Transportation about three years ago on this project, and have since been modifying the formulation.

Zanko said he believes the product being developed by NRRI can be very competitive price wise with products that are currently being used by maintenance crews.

“What we’re working with is materials generated with the mining industry and some are by- products, so it’s simply making best use of materials generated by mining industry which could be considered a waste product,” said Zanko.

The primary material used for the product is derived from taconite tailings and concentrate, which are then mixed with some other components, he said. A liquid activator is then added to make a reaction.

Road repairs have been made at several locations on both asphalt and concrete pavement, including Highway 2 in Proctor, a portion of Highway 135 in Duluth and on some city streets in Duluth.

“We’re very pleased with the performance of a couple of those recipes — they’ve held out quite well,” Zanko said.

NRRI plans to continue monitoring conditions of the repairs after each season.

The next step is to continue to find the best way to evaluate the product and get it down on roads.

“We’ll probably do a few more installations into the fall,” he said.

Keeping traffic delays to a minimum.

Once a liquid activator is added to the primary components of the product, the reaction occurs quite quickly.

A road repair can be done with the product NRRI is testing in as little as 10 minutes to half an hour, depending on weather conditions and temperature.

“Our repairs set up and are driveable a lot faster than other products that are out there,” Zanko said. “That’s really important, because a lot maintenance crews have to make repairs and have them drivable quickly, rather than set up signage and so on.”

How does it stack up environmentally?

“Environmentally, I think it stacks up quite well against other products that are out there,” Zanko said.

“Again, from a best use practice, it makes use of products already being generated by the mining activity,” he added.

A goal of commercialization

The relatively near-term goal of the road repair product being tested by NRRI is commercialization.

“The goal is to get the product out there for people to use,” said Zanko. “Before that, you need proof that it does well and there is good documentation.”

As part of the near-term process, NRRI is conducting laboratory tests to help people understand the product’s progressive strength. Completing a product specification sheet is another part of the near-term process.


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