If you untangled all the asphalt-paved roads and alleys in Los Angeles and put them end to end, the resulting roadway would stretch from L.A. to Tokyo and that doesn’t include concrete freeways.
And keeping the city’s 6,500 miles of roads and 800 miles of alleys smoothly paved is largely the responsibility of Thomas Sullivan, newly appointed president and chief operating officer of Cyclean of Los Angeles LLC. Sullivan comes to Cyclean from Jefferson Development Corp., which Sullivan owned but “gave up” to join Cyclean.
The city of Los Angeles and private contractors employ San Fernando-based Cyclean to manufacture 300,000 tons of the asphalt used to pave local roads and alleys each year. Sullivan’s company produces asphalt recycled from old roads, parking lots and any other paved places.
Before the advent of asphalt recycling about 10 years ago, said Sullivan, the city took “mountains of this stuff to the landfills because it was useless.”
Many of Cyclean’s competitors use an older recycling process, which involves melting down asphalt and yields only 15 percent of what you started with. The other 85 percent of the material is burned away.
But Cyclean found a way around that problem, using a patented, special microwave process that reduces burning. “Cyclean is the only firm that actually rejuvenates and reuses 85 to 92 percent of the material,” said Sullivan. “We only add about 8 percent of virgin mix.”
The city buys about 250,000 tons of recycled asphalt from Cyclean per year at a price of $18 per ton, vs. the $22 per ton it costs the city to buy virgin asphalt. Also, recycled asphalt has the benefit of reducing landfill use.
And business is booming. Los Angeles-area manufacturers produce 3 million tons of asphalt per year.
And Cyclean expects to increase its annual output, now at 300,000 tons, to 800,000 tons within the next two years, Sullivan said.
Cyclean recycles asphalt at its two manufacturing plants one in Long Beach and another in San Fernando.
Sullivan describes the process as like “baking a cake.” Old asphalt is ground up and separated into its primary constituent parts rock and oil and then a binding material is added to hold it all together.
Currently, Cyclean is working on perfecting rubberized asphalt a process through which old tires are incorporated into the recipe. Cyclean is in the testing phase of the process, and according to Sullivan, the new formula lasts longer than traditional asphalt and provides a smoother ride.
Traditional asphalt roads typically last 13 to 15 years if properly cared for, said Sullivan, but only seven to 10 years if they’re not. Proper asphalt care means sealing cracks in the surface before water and air has a chance to damage and erode the asphalt, creating potholes.
Asked about the L.A. roadway he’d most like to see repaved, Sullivan responds, “Broadway in downtown is just a mess.”