For Ergon Asphalt & Emulsions (EAE), serving as a resource goes far beyond meeting the needs of customers. We strive to be leaders in the development of improved products and technology, and the relationships we have cultivated with university engineering departments play an important role in industry advances. As we provide support needed to educate students in fundamental ways, we are also supporting research that benefits the entire industry.

Ergon’s longest relationship has been with Mississippi State University (MSU). It began informally in 2006, when Isaac L. Howard, Ph.D., P.E., F. ASCE, MSU’s Interim Director, Materials and Construction Industries Endowed Chair and Professor, crossed paths with Ergon’s Vice President of Paragon Technical Services, Gaylon Baumgardner, Ph.D. “We were introduced at a Mississippi Asphalt Pavement Association meeting and just started expressing common interests, and from there we started working on projects together,” Dr. Howard said. “Early work included polymer field trial data, more sustainable asphalt mixes and recycling. As the relationship started to expand, we began to partner more strategically on all sorts of work.”

Following Hurricane Katrina, MSU’s Construction Materials Research Center, APAC, the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Ergon joined forces to conduct a full-scale demonstration for the Department of Homeland Security. The purpose was to prove that the asphalt industry could aid in expediting the rebuilding process after natural disasters by using warm mix technologies in ways they had not been used in the past — for recovery — and that the use of additives would allow asphalt to be hauled extremely long distances while still being suitable for temporary applications. A parking lot was paved with 12 strips of asphalt with different combinations of materials, haul times and compaction levels.

“As we neared completion of this paving demonstration, we realized the value of the site as a tool to study longer-term aging,” Dr. Howard said. “We just started collecting measurements. Literally thousands of them. There are dozens and dozens of different combinations out there, just aging in the field. We have been able to evaluate the effect of construction practices, of additives, and of using several types of recycled materials. All of these variations have been, and continue to be, evaluated in a very controlled, systematic way. We aren’t relying on anything but the truth, which is outdoor aging, when it comes to evaluating how these materials change properties over time. Nothing simulates a Mississippi climate like the Mississippi climate!”

Since 2011, there have been multiple funded studies on how mixtures at the parking lot are aging. Results have been presented and published at conferences and in multiple journals and magazines. Overall, the collaborative efforts with MSU-CMRC and Ergon have led to opportunities for several dozen students, dozens of publications/presentations, and multiple national recognitions.

“We look for opportunities to help mentor those students, to make them champions of our products,” Dr. Baumgardner explained. “We are already seeing students working as university professors. One is actually working for the competition, but that’s ok because we prefer ‘good’ competition. Others are working for the Corps of Engineers, some in really responsible positions. You feel good seeing people you’ve helped along the way.”

Ergon’s reputation in the industry is a major factor in a university’s decision to partner with the company. According to Dr. Howard, Dr. Baumgardner is a big part of Ergon’s reputation. “Gaylon is known for being very honest about his findings, very thorough and competent. If he tells someone they should modify their asphalt a certain way, they are going to believe him because of his track record. People tend to listen to people’s accomplishments more than the people themselves, and in Gaylon’s case, he is an extremely well known and respected asphalt person on an international level.”

Dr. Howard added that he can always rely on Dr. Baumgardner to be there when needed. “Gaylon’s level of involvement is directly proportional to the complexity of the problem,” he said. “The harder the job gets, the more involved Gaylon gets.”

Bill Lampton, Ergon Director, and Baxter Burns, EAE President, are important resources for Dr. Howard and MSU-CMRC. “Bill keeps a fairly close eye on the overall program and helps as needed to keep things running smoothly,” Dr. Howard commented. “Baxter helps us evaluate how we are performing and what we need to be planning down the road to keep the program strong, i.e., the big picture. His interests lie in the quality of the students, the value of the research, and in helping us to continue moving forward.”

Other EAE team members play important roles. Larry Tomkins, EAE Vice President – South Region, often lectures classes at MSU. Larry, Amy Walker, EAE Area Sales Manager, and Stan Williams, EAE Technical Marketing Manager, work with Dr. Howard on various industry-related issues, oftentimes leading to topics for presentations he gives to professional societies. Mark Ishee, EAE Vice President – Pavement Preservation, works with Dr. Howard frequently, as do almost all of the Paragon staff, including Scott Watson, Senior Vice President; Mike Hemsley, Technical Director/Field Services and Mix Design; Codrin Daranga, Technical Director/Asphalt Binders, Emulsions & Technical Coatings; and Trey Jordan, Mix Design Engineer. These relationships elevate the reputation of CMRC and the quality of the asphalt industry as a whole.

Show Me the … Time

In closing, Dr. Howard explained that MSU’s relationship with Ergon is about more than money. “Money is good, but Ergon is also investing the thing that is often the hardest to get from people, and that is time. Without Ergon supporting us the way they do, what I do here would not be possible.

“Through this partnership, a regional future workforce of students has been taught about asphalt — many of whom are still in Mississippi, working in the roadway construction industry,” Dr. Howard commented. “We're trying to raise the value of the whole industry. We are developing tools that are good for everybody and developing a workforce that's good for everybody.”