Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dirt turned to stone

NM man'sDdirt to stone, revolutionizes road repair worldwide

Created: 11/09/2014 9:45 PM 
By: Ryan Luby, KOB Eyewitness News 4
They're often rutted and dangerous, but a Santa Fe business owner has a new technology that could forever change how road crews repair and maintain dirt roads.
Indeed, there's a certain beauty found in taking a road less traveled in New Mexico, but there's also a certain headache -- a teeth-ratting reminder why most dirt roads should be avoided.
On the back roads of the Navajo Nation, that's almost always true.
"There are a lot of struggles," Benjamin Bennett, the deputy director of the Navajo Nation Division of Transportation said in an interview with 4 Investigates.
The Navajo Nation is almost entirely rural and sparsely populated.  Because of that, there are hundreds of miles of dirt roads.  Crews try to maintain them, but it's often difficult.
After the snow melts every winter, it's especially tough.
"[We] try to make sure that we can keep everybody out of the mud," Bennett said.
He said some of the roads develop ruts that are up to one foot deep.  He said some people never leave their homes for fear of becoming stranded.
They're often too far out of reach of emergency responders as well, he said.
However, Bennett hopes those are problems of the past.  The Navajo Nation recently bought into a new technology called bionic soil, which puts Mother Nature's biological clock into overdrive.
"The product technology is called lithification, and lithification is the definition of transforming soil into rock," Bob Sherwin, founder of Bionic Soil Solutions said.
He had the help of an inventor in Brisbane, Australia in developing a "secret sauce" -- a non-toxic, proprietary liquid that exponentially accelerates the breakdown of oxygen, silicon, and aluminum found naturally in soil to turn it into stone.
"It's what Mother Nature does over hundreds of thousands of years," Sherwin said.
In order for the product to work properly, he said crews first till a dirt road with a machine called a reclaimer.  Then, they spray the fluffed dirt with water to make it pack well.  After that, they apply the "sauce," smooth the dirt with road rollers, then wait for it to harden overnight.
The next morning, 4 Investigates found it to be as hard as concrete and as smooth as a freshly-paved interstate.
Sherwin said the bionic soil is scientifically proven to be harder than concrete, water repellent, and nearly indestructible.
He demonstrated how the bionic soil remains intact, like a rock, when submerged in water.  He said he's had some samples soaking for months which haven't changed a bit.
The Navajo Nation is confident the product is environmentally friendly to their sacred land.  Bennett said the Navajo DOT has more stringent environmental standards than the rest of the country.
He also believes the bionic soil is a permanent solution along a particularly problematic, six-mile stretch of road through a mountain pass.
"This [project] was on the books since 1998," Bennett said.
He said the $1.3 million project is costing them the same, or less, than what they would have spent on a traditional road made of gravel and sand.
Sherwin said traditional gravel and sand roads last about three or four years, whereas the bionic soil could last for 20 or 30 years.
"Its going to open a lot of doors," Bennett said.  "It's going to sell itself.  And I think that if we can do that across the Navajo Nation, we could put a lot of people out of the mud."
Bionic Soil Solutions has completed roughly a dozen other projects elsewhere across New Mexico, including a road near Edgewood and on pads that surround pump jacks in the oil fields.
Further, the company expects to apply the product to the construction of homes.  Ultimately, it plans to donate the product to the making of dirt bricks in underdeveloped countries.
Sherwin, along with more than a dozen investors scattered across the western U.S., recently secured licensing rights for their product nationwide.  They have plans to expand worldwide.

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