When Kuert Concrete president Steve Fidler reviewed his year-to-date sales report, he found one glaring success. In a less-than-stellar year, he focused on the summary line of a product that had been positive. While 300 yards doesn't seem like a big number in the scope of his business, the figure was zero in 2007.

Other Indiana producers have a similarly positive number. Butch Nuckols of Builder's Concrete & Supply found 505 yards of extra business. Irving Materials Inc. (IMI) and Chad Hayes of Buster's Cement Products in New Castle have seen this type of work in 2008 as well.

What is creating this new market opportunity for ready-mix producers in Indiana? It is roller-compacted concrete (RCC). Producers associate RCC with dams, logging roads, and 50-acre intermodal parking areas. These are not typical ready-mix producer projects.

But things are changing. RCC is becoming competitive with asphalt in pricing, and the commercial paving market is taking a new look at the material.

Many feel this situation is here to stay. Oil producers have invested in additional refining equipment that increases the percentage of crude oil in gasoline. Thus, the byproduct of the refining process from which asphalt comes is reduced. So even as the price of oil and gasoline has softened, the price of asphalt binders has doubled in the last quarter of 2008. These increases have quickly translated into unprecedented high sale prices for asphalt products.

This situation has created a tremendous opportunity for the ready-mix industry. Producers have the chance to provide owners and municipalities with conventional concrete pavements at or near the same initial cost as equivalent asphalt pavements. As this type of work continues to grow, the concrete industry has found a new ally: the asphalt paver.

By substituting RCC for the asphalt base or binder, the contractor can provide the owner or municipality a less expensive and structurally equivalent (or superior) pavement section. The contractor uses his same equipment and the installation techniques are very similar to those of asphalt.

Indiana's experience

Jim Render of Essroc Cement initiated the process in Indiana by recommending an RCC seminar that was being given by the Southeast Cement Association in Louisville, Ky. Jerry Larson, executive director of the Indiana Ready Mixed Concrete Association (IRMCA), invited Wanda Hartman, Union County's highway supervisor.

After attending, Hartman indicated that using RCC was a very viable option. She would be able to use the county's same crews and equipment while only substituting the material.

Six weeks later, Union County placed 100 yards of RCC manufactured and delivered by IMI. The material was placed on a stretch of road that typically washes out each spring when the adjacent river floods. There were a few minor adjustments that were made during placement, but the street is performing well and Union County officials are pleased.