Peter Murphy speaks to Roads and Infrastructure as sustainable material supplier Alex Fraser celebrates a milestone birthday.
Starting out as metal traders in the 1800s, Alex Fraser has evolved over 140 years of operation to become Australia’s leading construction material recycler, supplying roads projects around the country with sustainable, recycled material.
“By the end of this year, Alex Fraser will have produced more than 50 million tonnes of quality recycled products,” says the company’s Managing Director, Peter Murphy.
The company, which produces sustainable materials for the civil construction industry, has supplied more than 250 major road projects, as well as thousands of smaller municipal developments.
After the First and Second World Wars, Alex Fraser began recycling metal from war equipment such as aircraft. During the 1980s, the company started demolishing buildings and sending as much material as possible for recycling.
It started recycling construction and demolition material in Victoria in the 1980s, expanding its services to Queensland in 1995. The first major project to opt for the use of sustainable materials, better known as a “green road”, was the M80 Ring Road in the early 1990s. Alex Fraser supplied 100,000 tonnes to the project stretching from Tilburn Road to Boundary Road in Melbourne’s West.
It was also in the early 1990s that Vicroads developed a specification for the use of recycled material. Mr Murphy says Vicroads have continued to work with the industry and he considers their approach to be cautious, but progressive; “one of the best examples of regulator involvement in the world”.
It was also in the 1990s that Alex Fraser moved into asphalt. “We were determined to make sure Alex Fraser Asphalt became Victoria’s go to provider for quality asphalt, and paving services, with a green edge. Over time, Alex Fraser Asphalt has been progressive in developing a suite of asphalt products that ensure our customers get the best outcomes for their project and the environment,” Mr. Murphy says.
Today, the Alex Fraser asphalt crew paves around 1000 kilometres of roads each year, and is an industry leader in terms of innovation in recycled content.
It recycles four million tonnes of waste from the demolition of roads – recovering enough waste asphalt, concrete, brick and rock to fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) more than three times over.
“What’s important is that we’re in the middle of the biggest infrastructure boom the country has seen; and the resources we need to achieve it are running low,” Mr. Murphy said. “Quarried materials are being carted increasing distances, which is increasing heavy vehicle traffic, and the cost of materials into metropolitan areas.”
Accessible quarry deposits are very valuable, and for this reason, recycling is an important component in ensuring we can continue to build roads, affordably, and sustainably.
In the 2000s, Alex Fraser saw an opportunity to recover another difficult waste stream and turn it into a quality product that could be used in the construction of roads and infrastructure.
“We saw a problem with glass recycling. There were mountains of stockpiles of glass fines around the country, so we researched every possibility and came up with a solution. We found a way to turn that waste into a high-spec sand ideally suited for use in roadbase, pipe bedding and asphalt production,” Mr. Murphy says. “We have some pretty determined employees and some customers that are great to work with on new ideas. We’re currently converting around four million bottles per day into recycled sand”.
Since then, Alex Fraser’s recycled glass sand has been used in major road projects including CityLink Tulla Widening, Webb Dock and the Level Crossing Removals.
Upon completion of the CityLink Tulla Widening Project in Melbourne, the equivalent of more than 40 million glass bottles were recycled and reused in the roadbase beneath the freeway’s asphalt layer.
The next big project is the Western Roads Upgrade in Melbourne. Over the coming months, Alex Fraser will supply thousands of tonnes of recycled material, including recycled roadbase, and asphalt with high recycled content.
“Using recycled materials to create roads not only decreases the pressure on material supply, but enables municipal kerbside collection schemes. Construction companies that choose recycled get quality, reliable products that deliver a number of environmental and cost savings,” Mr. Murphy says.
“Many contractors prefer our recycled road base over a crushed rock product and tell us that it requires less work to achieve compaction. It also offers a density saving of about 10 per cent, representing significant savings,” he says.
Alex Fraser has a network of sites across Victoria and Queensland – including five recycling sites and three asphalt plants – making it easy for customers to recycle waste and access sustainable materials.
The company is determined to keep innovating to provide greener materials for roads and infrastructure while supporting industry and government to find solutions to emerging environmental issues.
It recently developed PolyPave, its first asphalt mix incorporating recycled plastics along with volumes of recycled asphalt (RAP) and glass.
“We are constantly looking at new ways to support the industry to address the growing strain on natural resources, and provide an efficient and quality supply of materials that reduce the environmental impact of new infrastructure,” Mr. Murphy says.
This month, Alex Fraser will officially open its custom-built glass recycling plant, the first of its kind. The new recycled sand production facility utilises a whole range of technologies to convert mountains of problematic glass into a quality sand that is being successfully utilised in the road and rail projects of Victoria’s “Big Build”.
“The new glass recycling facility has been designed to remove all contaminants from waste glass fines, things like paper, metal, plastic and organics, before turning the clean glass into a sustainable sand product,” Mr. Murphy says.
In tandem with the glass recycling plant, the companying is launching its first high recycled technology asphalt plant. Poles apart from regular asphalt plants, the new asphalt plant prioritises the use of recycled content over virgin material.
“Our new plant puts traditional asphalt production on its head. It’s also playing a significant role in increasing our capacity to service the demand of a market under the pressure of delivering Victoria’s ‘Big Build’,” Mr. Murphy says.