Winnipeg Sun: Local company is helping change face of rural roads

A Mitacs researcher and geotechnical specialist working with Brandon University is helping to change the face of rural roads in the area.

Cypher Environmental has been producing an environmentally-friendly soil stabilizer called EarthZyme for a decade now, Riley Cram, the Mitacs researcher and specialist, has found a way to make it more widely applicable, including in one of Canada’s harshest climates.

The science is complicated but essentially, gravel roads are treated with EarthZyme — which comes in a concentrated solution that is mixed with water and then sprayed from a water truck — its combination of enzymes, electrolytes and surfactants work by releasing water from the soil so that it can be compacted into a denser form and then ‘bound’ with clay found in the gravel roads.

The result is a more durable surface that is less prone to potholes and washboarding, requires less maintenance, and doesn’t kick up dust when vehicles travel on it.

“It kind of cements together but it behaves differently than cement,” Cram said. “Cement behaves very brittlely, it will crack, it will fracture whereas the clay will flex, it’s more durable than asphalt or cement.”

EarthZyme is already used in as many as 30 countries, from farming roads in Nigeria to open pit mine roads in China.

The problem around Brandon, where they’ve been testing out the product since 2015, is that the roads don’t have clay in them.

So Cram, in collaboration with Brandon University professor Dr. Hamid Mumin and civil engineering technologist Greg Gaboury — and funded by Mitacs — sourced out clay to mix with the gravel and the product, resulting in a six- or eight-inch topper on the road.

And while the process is still being perfected, Cram says the results, especially on the heaving hauling roads, have been positive.

“Over the past five years, a couple of the roads that we’ve done have only needed to be touched once or twice,” he said. “Normally, they’d need to be grated daily to weekly, having to put water on three times a day. For a season and one or two miles of road, they’re spending $40,000 just on water.”

Lori Road in the RM of Cornwallis, Man., being constructed in 2015. A Manitoba company says it has developed a product to make travelling gravel roads safer. Handout

Coun. Sam Hofer with the RM of Cornwallis said he’d welcome any municipalities to come by and see what a difference it makes.

“The product is amazing,” he said. “We got our investment back in two years just with the saved maintenance costs.”

Hofer said the municipality has been topping sections of priority roads ever since.

Hofer said Currie’s Landing, a local road, was one of the first to get treated. A heavy-traffic, gravel hauling road, Hofer said he’d get complaints — sometimes several a day — about the state of peril the road was in.

“Now, it’s almost like driving on a highway,” he said. “And it only requires minor work every spring.”

And it’s a dust-killer.

“By up to 90%,” Cram said.

Good news for farmers, whose crop yields can be affected by all the dust coming up off the road and onto their nearby fields. And good for drivers and their vehicles, who don’t need to traverse slick gravel roads fraught with potholes.

Upfront costs vary. Cram said from scratch, it would cost roughly $75,000 for a mile-long stretch of road to be topped with the mixture.

But Wellman said that most municipalities have most, if not all, of the equipment necessary to lay the product down, dramatically reducing the price.