Taconite Tailings Used to Tackle Pothole Problems

Updated: September 27, 2018 09:06 PM

Potholes are not a new problem in Duluth. But a combination of a new recipe and old rock is being used to address it. On a street in Lincoln Park on Thursday, there are now fewer potholes, thanks to a mixture using taconite tailings.

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Larry Zanko and Sara Post, from UMD's NRRI, worked as a team, mixing the dry and liquid ingredients together. Then they poured it out, working quickly, because it hardens within minutes.

And that's part of the beauty of the mixture, because it only takes about 15 minutes to set before you can drive on it.

Greg Guerrero, the street maintenance manager for the city of Duluth, said, "It's been a real eye-opener for all of us. We're excited about this product. It has a place in our tool box of maintenance for our streets. We are hopeful it will stay in place longer, even if it takes more time to put in."

Traditional asphalt, he explained, can be put down and driven on immediately. But it's messier, and comes up easier. The tailings mix has lasted 2-3 years in other tests.

Mayor Emily Larson was on hand for the pouring. She announced this project in the state of the city address, and has even helped pour test patches over potholes.

"I can't tell you how many times this summer, I'd call my husband and ask him, what are you doing for lunch? Let's go check out those potholes!" she told us. 

She said it appears the taconite tailings mix is blocking more moisture, and now they'll have to see how it weathers the winter.

Thursday's pour was a new recipe. The researchers are always tweaking it. Zanko, the senior minerals engineer from NRRI, said, "We get information from what we put down. And we think, maybe we should try another formula, different things that might help. This is the type of real application with the city, in a real location, under real circumstances, and that's what applied research is about."

It seemed fitting that nearby, a train full of iron ore pellets pulled in to unload at the CN ore docks. This happened as the pothole patch was being mixed together and poured. Another reminder about the Range's impact in the Twin Ports.

Larson added, "We picked Lincoln Park to try new things. And what is interesting, is that it's taconite tailings. So we're really working with our regional economy to fill our needs as a city, by pushing the edge of research."

They still have some work to do, to see if they can make this practical for city crews. "If we're going to bring this to scale, we need to talk about adaptive equipment that would make it work," Larson said.

Advanced Road Patch, LLC, a small company based on the Range, purchased the license to commercialize the product.

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