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21 October, 2018 12:49:52 AM

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Highways run into bitumen gap

FAISAL MAHMUD
Highways run into bitumen gap

Ever expanding road networks in the country have kept the demand of bitumen on a constant rise. However, in the absence of quality bitumen suppliers, low-quality products have flooded the market, making roads and highways susceptible to early damage.

 Bitumen is an oil based substance.

It is produced by removing the lighter fractions (such as liquid petroleum gas, petrol and diesel) from heavy crude oil during the refining process. The vast majority of refined bitumen is used in construction, primarily as a constituent of products used in paving and roofing applications.

 Currently, bitumen in Bangladesh is mainly used in road constriction and roofing applications. Bangladesh has 21,118 km of road networks under the Roads and Highways Division of the Ministry of Communication. There are another 1,60,000 km of ‘pakka’ roads constructed by the local government engineering division (LGED).

 The present demand for bitumen is 3,90,000 tonnes against the supply of 2,50,000 tonnes. The deficit is 1,40,000 tonnes, which is more than one-third of the total demand.

 Sector stakeholders say that out of 2,50,000 tonnes, only 70,000 tonnes, supplied by the state owned Eastern Refinery Ltd (ERL), are of good quality; the rest of the bitumen is being imported by some of the private companies. The largest of the private bitumen importers is the PHP group of Chottagram.

 

High-grade bitumen for

highways

Officials from the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) of the government told The Independent that as part of the sustainable road construction plan, the government had decided to use only 60/70 grade bitumen to ensure road longevity.

 The RHD official said the demand for bitumen had increased in recent times, as some of the main highways under construction needed high quality bitumen. Those highways include the four-lane Dhaka-Mymensingh, Dhaka-Sylhet, Dhaka-Chittagong and Rangpur-Hatikumrul highways.

The peak road and highway construction season in Bangladesh begins from early October. Ebne Alam Hasan, chief RHD engineer, said 60/70 grade bitumen was needed for proper construction of roads and highways.

 He said roads were being damaged because of high temperature, incessant rains, and prolonged floods. In this case, bitumen to be used for road construction must have appropriate adhesiveness, coating capability, flexibility, and anti-stripping agents.

“The 60/70 grade bitumen is regarded as the appropriate penetration grade taking into consideration the weather pattern and traffic management system of the country,” he said.

 AFM Rashiduzzaman, Chairman of Zaman Construction and Consultants Ltd, one of the listed contractors of the RHD, told The Independent that, for road and highway construction, they always prefer ERL bitumen because of its good quality.

“When we take a contract for constructing roads, the duty of maintaining them for a certain period also falls on us. So, if poor quality bitumen is used for the carpeting, then the roads get damaged within six or seven months, especially during the rainy season,” he said.

Mursalin Ahmed, an engineer with Nippon Construction Ltd, said that, if low quality bitumen is used for the carpeting of the road, then the carpeting wears off after a short period.

 “The bitumen of ERL is the best available in the market. We always ask our supplier whether the bitumen is from ERL.”

 

The bitumen of ERL

 Meanwhile, the government’s plan of doubling the local bitumen production of the ERL has come to a standstill, as the fate of ERL’s expansion is in a limbo.

To reduce the growing demand-supply gap in the construction sector, five years ago, the Prime Minster’s office (PMO), as per the request of the RHD, directed the ERL to build a new bitumen unit so that the production of the key construction material could be doubled against the backdrop of its increased demand.

 Talking with The Independent, Engr Khondoker Mostafizur Rahman, General Manager (Engineering & Service) of ERL, said, increasing the capacity of bitumen production depended on the expansion of the refinery.

“In our mega plan for a second unit for the refinery, we have incorporated some other plans including a new unit for bitumen production. So without the expansion of the refinery, we can’t start the project for bitumen production,” said the GM of ERL.

Rahman told The Independent that, currently, ERL’s total bitumen production capacity was around 70,000 tonnes. “We are producing two types of bitumen—one is grade 80–100 or soft bitumen and another is grade 60–70 or hard bitumen.”

He said that the price of soft bitumen was Tk 63,000 per tonne and the price of hard bitumen is Tk 68,000 per tonne. An 150 kg drum of soft bitumen is being sold at Tk 10,300 and a 150 kg drum hard bitumen is sold at Tk 11,000,” he added.

“The bitumen that we produce is the best in the country and it has high demands among contractors,” said Rahman.

 

Other bitumen available

Md Abu Hanif, former general manager (marketing) of Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC), said that the bitumen produced by the ERL was the best and enjoyed a high demand among contractors.

 The bitumen produced by ERL is distributed to the Padma, Meghna and Jamuna oil companies and the contractors get bitumen from them through work orders. “As the ERL bitumen has a high demand among contractors, we don’t sell them in the open market; instead, we sell them through our companies,” he said.

He said due to the huge demand of ERL bitumen, a section of contractors previously got allocation of bitumen from the BPC and sold the construction material in the open market at higher rates.

To stop the practice, the ERL made it mandatory for a contractor to submit a work order before getting an allocation from the ERL. He, however, said that some private importers brought bitumen from Iran and sold them in the open market at Tk 7,500 per 150 kg drum.

“To stop such corruption and to increase the output, there is no option but to construct the second unit”, said Hanif.

EA

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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