Sector - Sustainability

July Patent of the Month

Growing concern about global warming has encouraged many innovative businesses across industry sectors to focus on finding ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Embodied carbon emissions – those that are built into the structures in our environment – have traditionally been overlooked. It is now acknowledged however, that reducing these emissions could play a significant role in helping to limit the global temperature rise. As a result, companies and organisations have become increasingly aware of the impact that their products and services have on the environment.

Many commonly-used construction materials have a significant environmental impact. Asphalt is a mixture made of aggregates, binder, such as bitumen, and filler. These ingredients are heated together to form an asphalt mixture, which is used for constructing and maintaining roads, parking areas, railway tracks and other infrastructure.

Traditionally, the asphalt mixture is produced by heating it to a high temperature, which releases large quantities of carbon into the atmosphere. It is possible to reduce the environmental impact of this process by using additives. However, these additives can have negative effects such as causing the asphalt to crack at low temperatures.

The Korean Institute of Construction Technology (KICT) is a globally-recognised research centre dedicated to discovering and developing technologies for the construction industry.

In order to reduce the embodied carbon in our roads and other infrastructure, without undermining their structural integrity, KICT  filed a patent application at the European Patent Office (EPO) for a new low-carbon additive for use in the production of asphalt mixtures. This patent has recently been granted (EP 2357210)..

This innovative additive is formed from a mixture of polyethylene wax and vegetable wax at a weight ratio between 20:1 to 1:2. The vegetable wax is produced by melt reacting coconut wax with sodium hydroxide and stearic acid.

Incorporating this additive into the asphalt mixture gives it an improved resistance to high-temperature deformation. It is also less susceptible to stiffness and cracking at low temperatures.

Having secured a European patent, KICT has effectively secured commercial protection for its invention in the UK, as well as Germany, France and other European countries. However, KICT’s intellectual property strategy doesn’t stop there.

After first filing for patent protection in its home country of South Korea, KICT filed an international (PCT) application at the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) one year later. This PCT application was later divided into European, Japanese, Chinese and US patent applications, which have all since been granted.

By securing multifaceted global patent protection in this way, KICT has exclusive rights to commercialise its invention in many of the world’s biggest markets. As well as preventing other organisations from copying its invention, KICT can license it to businesses and organisations in many countries of the world in exchange for royalty payments.

The construction industry as a whole is becoming more aware of its environmental impact. Inventions such as this one, which affects a widely-used material, could make a big difference to the reduction of carbon emissions globally.

Mark Sugden is a patent attorney specialising in the construction sector at European intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers.  

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