Asphalt plant goes green, emits less nitrogen oxides

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Morgan Asphalt’s new plant in Magna, Utah, emits less nitrogen oxides than other plants in the state. (Morgan Asphalt)

Morgan Asphalt recently built a new hot burning asphalt plant in Magna, Utah, that aims to decrease their emissions of nitrogen oxides by using state-of-the-art equipment.

According to environmental experts and Morgan Asphalt, this step towards being more environmentally friendly will help improve Utah’s air quality.

“Everybody is being asked to step up in terms of trying to improve air quality,” CEO Thomas Morgan said. “The growth along the Wasatch Front is projected to double in the next thirty years. The single item that will prevent that from happening is air quality.” 

Utah cities can suffer from some of the worst air quality in the nation, according to a study by the American Lung Association. The air quality can become even worse during winter inversions when pollutants get trapped along with cold air under a layer of warm air. 

The new Morgan Asphalt plant is designed to decrease pollutants in three main ways: reducing the emission of nitrogen oxides, limiting the release of smoke and dust and recycling old asphalt.

The plant emits 48% less nitrogen oxides than other plants in Utah and 86% less than the industry average, according to Morgan Asphalt. 

“The burner is extremely efficient and burns less gas and emits a lot less pollutants,” Morgan said.

The new plant also prevents dust and “blue smoke,” a type of smoke that is produced as asphalt is mixed and heated, from escaping the burners and entering the atmosphere.

Morgan said the new plant can also recycle more old asphalt than most other plants in Utah.

BYU professor Ben Abbott acknowledged that any step forward to make asphalt more environmentally friendly is good, but there is still a long way to go.

“Anything we could do to make it better is good,” Abbott said. “It still doesn’t mean it’s green, per se, or sustainable, but it’s better.”

He said that nitrogen oxides can have multiple negative effects on a person’s health because it creates acid rain and can cause lung cancer, psychological problems and heart attacks.

According to Abbott, asphalt also presents environmental concerns after production because the tar that’s mixed with rocks is a byproduct of extracted crude oil. In addition to the pollutants emitted during production, asphalt also lets off volatile organic carbon when it is poured onto roads. Volatile organic carbons are gases that can be harmful to human health.

Asphalt is also detrimental because it covers up the previous environment with a solid surface that is bad for hydrology and water quality, according to Abbott.

The decision for a business to go green hinges on a variety of factors, but according to BYU professor Ben Lewis, most businesses choose to implement green policies to differentiate themselves from competitors.

Lewis said there are three main reasons companies adopt green business practices: government regulation, community perception and pressure from both customers and employees.

“That’s just good business to be aware of what’s going on and sort of being well-positioned for the future, even if it costs more,” Lewis said.

According to Spencer Parkinson, manager of business development and marketing at Morgan Asphalt, the choice to build the new plant aligns with many of the reasons Lewis listed.

Both Parkinson and Morgan said they anticipate the government will increase the environmental regulations to meet the emission standards of their new plant within the next few years, but they also felt a responsibility to the community.

“We live in the communities we work in, so we don’t want to be driving our trucks around and wearing our shirts when it says ‘Morgan’ and have people thinking, ‘Oh you guys are the folks that pollute the air,’” Parkinson said. “We wanted to do our part to be environmentally friendly so that we could help the environment and help the residents of Utah.”

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