Recent articles in the Express newspaper report that a decision was taken by the Prime Minister to transfer the Lake Asphalt company (LATT) from the Ministry of Energy to the Ministry of Works, and to develop a new business model to make the company sustainable and profitable.
There are other articles in the newspaper relating to LATT, and there appears to be some confusion in differentiating between a refinery-produced bitumen and the product that comes out of the Pitch Lake. I will seek to put these in perspective and to identify issues that may be relevant in charting the way forward.
Refinery-produced bitumen (RPB), together with aggregates, is used to manufacture bituminous mix (also called asphaltic mix) for paving of roads, bridges, airport runways, etc.
Trinidad Lake Asphalt (TLA), produced in La Brea by LATT, is also a bitumen, but with different and unique material composition and characteristics.
TLA added in small proportions to RPB and aggregates produces a bituminous mix with far superior qualities and attributes as follows: it increases the life of the pavement, improves pavement road carrying capacity, adds non-skid properties, and provides higher durability.
The process to deliver TLA involves mining and extraction of the raw materials, refining, manufacturing and pelletising. The TLA is shipped as pellets to customers overseas.
Customers then use TLA as a modifier to improve the performance of their bituminous pavements.
TLA has been subject to local and international research, with many papers certifying its capability in significantly enhancing the performance of bituminous road surfacing.
Indeed, many years ago, I was among the local contingent attending the seventh world asphalt conference in Kiel, Germany. There were a myriad of technical papers presented, including a research paper on TLA by a past head of department at The UWI. I was pleasantly surprised by the deep interest and acceptance of TLA by the European and International transportation community.
Of note is the fact that TLA is a highly technology-driven product. Its use would be determined by the engineering designers of the pavement facility, with consideration to the nature and class of the pavement and a cost-benefit analysis.
LATT has previously had major markets in Germany, Japan, the UK, Western Europe, China and the US.
As the Government proceeds to develop its new business plan for LATT, it may be wise to consider the following:
1. The pitch lake at La Brea is the largest in the world, and there are significantly large quantities of pitch available.
2. The extraction, refining, manufacturing and pelletising processes are complex.
3. TLA has been used widely across the world, and the benefits and advantages of using it have been well established over years.
4. There is a market locally, regionally and internationally for TLA. There may be learnings from LATT’s previous marketing experience in these regions.
5. TLA is a technology-driven product, and liaisons must be maintained with research institutions.
There is obviously a huge potential in the Pitch Lake, and it is not insurmountable for a plan be prepared in the best interest of the company and the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
Retired general manager,
Engineering and Construction, Petrotrin
Founding member and past president,
Project Management Institute,
Southern Caribbean Chapter
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