There might be a new definition of the term "road hog" in the future of America's highways, state transportation officials and legislators learned this week in Rantoul.
Swine manure appears to be the latest product to be studied for use in pavement construction.
"One of the things that really fascinated me ... is that they're now looking at using swine waste as a potential binder in asphalt," Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider said.
"That would be a very good use of an agricultural byproduct. It would be biofriendly."
Schneider spoke following a tour of the Advanced Transportation Research and Engineering Laboratory in Rantoul Wednesday.
Schneider and State Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Cicero, chairman of the Illinois Senate Transportation Committee, were among those present for the visit, which also included a presentation on pavement sustainability by researchers. The tour included state Reps. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, and Chad Hays, R-Catlin.
The laboratory serves as the primary transportation research facility for the Illinois Department of Transportation. It is a division of the Illinois Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Earlier this year, two St. Louis County companies, a road contractor and an engineering firm joined together to use 15 tons of swine manure to build a road in Eureka, Mo.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that a process was used that converts the animal waste into a bio-oil used in asphalt binder in a 500-foot stretch of road.
Imad Al-Qadi, the laboratory director, said the use of swine waste is particularly attractive in areas with a large number of hog farms. One area being studied closely is North Carolina, Al-Qadi said.
He said University of Illinois researchers have worked on the project with a former student of Al-Qadi's who is now at North Carolina A&T.
"The idea came from our Agriculture Department," Al-Qadi said. "They are producing this material. They have a processor for it (at the University of Illinois)."
The tour-symposium in Rantoul served as a gathering of state government leaders, educators, research personnel and the private sector.
Sandoval said he gets "very frustrated" by the slow pace of progress in Illinois.
"I always want to try to move things forward," he said. "You've got to take some risks. Government doesn't like to take a lot of risks. Industry and IDOT take a very conservative approach to road work."
Such is not the case with the laboratory, Sandoval said.
"This lab is a compliment to the people that work there and your students," Sandoval said.
Saying he has been a critic of the University of Illinois, he added, "Clearly this lab is one of the shining and bright spots of the university. The only constructive criticism is that there needs to be a (shortened) gap between ... state government and the educators.
"We don't get enough information by the bureaucrats nor the educators on what's best for the people of Illinois."
Schneider said another area where the lab is focusing is in the re-use of asphalt shingles to build roads.
"Sustainability is where we're cognizant of what we're doing and how it impacts the future so that we're creating an environment that can be sustained for future generations," Schneider said.
Schneider said IDOT recently received national recognition for recycling technology developed at the lab for rebuilding roads.
She said the process "rubbleizes some of the pavement and becomes the base for some of the asphalt overlayment."
"Where that saves us money," the transportation secretary said, "is we don't have to pay truckers to haul out old material. We don't have to buy new material and pay the truckers to bring new material in."
Al-Qadi said a recent study at the facility found that up to 50 percent of existing pavement can be recycled into use for new roads. And research will push that figure higher.
Research also continues into how to make roads more durable — a pressing topic in light of this year's extremely hot weather that has caused roads to buckle.
The facility, which is located on the southeast corner of the former Chanute Air Force Base, also houses the Illinois Center for Transportation, which was developed in partnership with IDOT.