Growing levels of urbanisation and recovering construction markets are expected to underpin solid growth in worldwide sales of asphalt in coming years, the latest report says.

In a forecast released last week, international research firm Global Industry Analysts (GIA) said it expected the volume of asphalt, otherwise known as bitumen, sold on international markets to grow ‘significantly’ over the next five years to reach 150 million tonnes by 2018 – though the report did not say what base this was coming from or what specific percentage of growth this would imply.

In its report, GIA says asphalt represents the strongest wear surface and base layer material used in the construction of roads, pavements, pathways, roofs, and parking lots and was a proven cure-all solution for several ecological problems. The report adds the material is also used as waterproof liners for fish rearing ponds, and water reservoirs, with more than 90 per cent of the roads in developed countries being bitumen based.

The research firm says growth would largely stem from a combination of factors including rising population, rapid industrialisation and higher levels of urbanisation and the associated demand for housing, paving and transport infrastructure, with Asia being the most promising region.

GIA adds that roads will account for around 29 per cent of the $US57 billion in global spending on infrastructure which will be required between now and 2030, while 25 million new paved road lane-kilometres would be needed by 2050.

Growth will also be helped along by improving construction markets in the United States and steady gains in BRIC countries, which will underpin demand for roofing materials, while demand for new infrastructure such as communications, power, water and sewerage would also be significant in the  BRIC group.

The report also noted that:

  • Innovation in bitumen manufacturing will largely be driven by demand for lower energy consumption.
  • A shift in manufacturing approach to performance-based specifications rather than recipe-based, empirical mix design specifications is being underpinned by a combination of technological change, increasing awareness regarding specific traffic and weather effects on asphalt roads, and an increasing propensity for design specification to be managed by developers and contractors.
  • Key growth areas for innovation in terms of the road segment of the asphalt market include noise-reducing hot mix product for lowering traffic noise, sustainable technologies for environmentally friendly mixture production and growing popularity of ‘perpetual pavements’ designed to last for 50 years instead of the conventional 20; in roofing, the market for bitumen is expected to benefit from the introduction of laminated shingles.

The new forecasts follow earlier predictions from Research and Markets in March of compound annual growth in worldwide bitumen sales volumes of 4.5 per cent between 2013 and 2018, with increasing demand for and use of recycled material being a key driving factor.

Key suppliers of this market include BP plc, ExxonMobil Corp., Imperial Oil Ltd., and Shell Bitumen.