The road of the future

By |  March 11, 2019
Recycled plastic, seen here being added to asphalt mix, could pave the way into the future. Photo courtesy of Volvo CE

Recycled plastic, seen here being added to asphalt mix, could pave the way into the future. Photo courtesy of Volvo CE

Our planet is covered in roads. By 2050, our global network of highways is projected to increase by 60 percent.

What will the road of the future look like, and how will construction aggregate factor in? Volvo Construction Equipment offered P&Q a glimpse into the future, detailing a handful of unique road innovations and exploring how design, materials and use will adapt in the years to come.

1. Jigsaw roads. Dutch company KWS partnered with Wavin and Total to develop PlasticRoad, a prefabricated, modular roadway made from recycled plastic. The modular fitted pieces make it 70 percent faster to build while the plastic hollow design makes it four times lighter than asphalt.

Might jigsaw roads figure more prominently in the coming years? Photo courtesy of Volvo CE

Might jigsaw roads figure more prominently in the coming years? Photo courtesy of Volvo CE

The hollow design allows for pipes and cables to be installed without extensive digging and has the capacity to store excess water during storms and floods. The trial phase began in September 2018 with the opening of a bike path in the Netherlands.

2. Glowing roads. With huge technological advancements in the automotive industry, it’s important to note the role road markings play in modern vehicles. A number of cars with autopilot functions rely on these markings to help center the vehicle on the road. In bad weather conditions or in low light, it can be difficult for both the car and the driver to see the markings. This, however, could all soon change.

On a small stretch of road in the Netherlands, streetlights were replaced with glow-in-the-dark lines that guide drivers. Daan Roosegaarde dreamed up this simple yet effective innovation.

These fluorescent strips absorb sunlight during the day, and this light is emitted back out again at night. Replacing streetlights, especially on less-traveled roads, provides a sustainable solution without jeopardizing the driver’s safety.

Glowing road markings may light the way into the future, as fluorescent strips that absorb sunlight by day can emit light at night. Photo courtesy of Volvo CE

Glowing road markings may light the way into the future, as fluorescent strips that absorb sunlight by day can emit light at night. Photo courtesy of Volvo CE

Roosegaarde also seeks to create road-warning marks out of temperature-sensitive paint. The margins will illuminate when triggered by a drop-in temperature, for example, warning drivers of icy patches on the road ahead. Similar technology is being incorporated into asphalt to create glowing cycle paths and small path stretches. This could become a common sight for evening commuters in the future.

3. Self-healing roads. What if concrete could literally heal itself? Self-healing materials were voted one of the top 10 emerging technologies by the World Economic Forum.

Previously, this technology was only really explored by the aerospace industry, but its potential widespread use in the concrete construction industry has driven more extensive research.

In 2013, researchers at the University of Bath, Cardiff and Cambridge joined forces to create a new generation of “smart” concrete and other cement-based construction materials. As part of the project, researchers are developing a concrete mix that contains bacteria encompassed in microcapsules, which will germinate when water enters a crack in the concrete. This then produces limestone (calcite), plugging the crack before water and oxygen corrode the steel reinforcement below.

Electric roads could charge your vehicles as they are driven. Photo courtesy of Volvo CE

Electric roads could charge your vehicles as they are driven. Photo courtesy of Volvo CE

Self-healing concrete is estimated to reduce lifetime costs by up to 50 percent. The same concept is being used in asphalt where microscopic capsules containing rejuvenator can be used to enhance the self-healing capability of the material.

4. Electrified roads. About 60 percent of carbon pollution from the transportation sector comes from passenger vehicles. If all of these vehicles are electrified, this could have a huge impact on reducing carbon emissions.

Still, a big issue with electric vehicles is the time they take to charge. Electric cars like the Tesla Model S can travel over 250 miles on a single charge, but recharging can take up to 25 hours.

Research is being done on electrified roads that would allow electric vehicle drivers to charge on the go. Some research is looking into wireless charging while others are looking into cable contact charging where – not unlike a life-size Scalextric – cars will charge by maintaining contact with charging coils on the road.

Self-healing concrete is estimated to reduce lifetime costs by up to 50 percent. Photo courtesy of Volvo CE

Self-healing concrete is estimated to reduce lifetime costs by up to 50 percent. Photo courtesy of Volvo CE

Early models suggest that installing charging coils in 10 percent of our roadways will extend the driving range of electric vehicles from an average of 58 miles to 298 miles.

5. Plastic roads. India has been filling potholes using plastic as a binder on a small scale for years. UK engineer Toby McCartney even developed a way to turn recycled plastic into pellets that can be added to asphalt to decrease the use of binders.

Between six and 22 pounds of recycled plastic are needed for every ton of paved asphalt. This process reportedly makes roads considerably stronger and last much longer than traditional material.

Cumbria, a county in the UK, adopted this for all new roadways. But life in plastic isn’t always great. As roads break down, small micro particles of plastic are released into the surrounding environment and can have detrimental impacts on wildlife and human health.


Information for the article courtesy of Volvo Construction Equipment.


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