Field: Damage-reducing technique
Global Technical function: Burning, Collecting, Manufacturing, Storing
Technical Function Unit: Disseminating, Incinerating, Mixing
Geographic Area: Netherlands


Bitumen is a petroleum-based material used in many applications within the construction sector. The material can for instance be applied as a binding agent in roads or as roofing materials for flat roofs. Despite the present awareness in the use of natural resources, especially of fossil origin, bitumen is not widely recycled yet. In many countries a more common method of getting rid of the material is incineration or landfilling, mostly due to a lack of alternative damage-reducing techniques

20 years back, Icopal BV (NL) – formerly known as Esha and part of the Icopal Group - felt the need to create a more sustainable handling process as a commercially viable alternative to the endless consumption of virgin material. Being one of Europe’s largest suppliers of bitumen products, the company started a recycling facility for production waste in their own production line, a clean and easily-recycled material. After a few years’ time the company developed the recycling process further by also enabling recycling of old roofing felts from demolition sites. Their innovative recycling technology is called BiELSo (Bitumen Endless Life Solutions), and in a project funded by the LIFE programme, a grant funding programme, the company set up a demonstration recycling plant for old bitumen roofing felts. The recycling plant is operating in the Netherlands and was taken in use in 2008. Since then, this patented bitumen recycling process has been fully developed and the technology readiness level is therefore estimated to a 9 on the TRL scale, according to the scope of this programme, which provides public grant funding for demonstration and commercial exploitation.

Icopal BV is now involved in most parts of the life cycle of bitumen roofing felts, in order to assure a proper collecting, storing and transporting old roofing felts from demolition sites to the recycling plant. To ensure a high-quality material flow into the plant, the company is sampling the old roofing felts before they are dismantled from the roof tops. After dismantling, contaminating solid materials – like glass, wood and stones – are removed and the roofing material is shredded before it is processed in the recycling plant itself. There it is, sieved and milled. Mixing this recycled bitumen with virgin bitumen, the material is then fed into their manufacturing process of new roofing felts.

To disseminate this recycling technology and introduce the process to new markets in other European countries, a CIP Ecoinnovation programme called ECOPROTECTION was recently undertaken by Icopal BV and one of its daughter companies (Esha Infra Solutions, a service provider in modified road applications). This project aimed to set up demonstration plants in Belgium, Germany, UK and Denmark.  However, due to some unexpected obstacles the expected results had not been accomplished when the project ended in January 2012.

The main issue encountered in the project was policy-related, as the traditional handling procedures (incinerating or landfilling the material) are actually cheaper than recycling the material in many EU countries. There is also a demand for fuel to European waste-to-energy plants, resulting in very weak incentives for users to recycle old bitumen products instead of burning them. The economic incentives for recycling old bitumen should be substantial as the price is now twice or three times as high as it was in 2004, but apparently this is not enough to change the general behaviour. When realising the difficulties in penetrating the markets in various EU countries arising from this situation the project team shifted focus to broadening the uptake of old material into their existing recycling plant, and to increase consciousness about recycling among their clients. As a result, the recycling process is now including clean-cutting waste from construction sites and a website has been created for disseminating information about the BiELSo recycling method.