Five Roads of the Future

By 2050 the global network of highways is projected to increase by 60 percent. Here are some incredible innovations with regard to design, materials and use that may be adopted in the years to come.

1. Plastic Roads

UK engineer Toby McCartney has developed a way to turn recycled plastic into pellets that can be added to asphalt to decrease the use of binders. You need 3 to 10 kg of recycled plastic per ton of paved asphalt. This process makes the road considerably stronger and last much longer than traditional material although there can be detrimental impacts on wildlife and human health.

2. 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. The hollow design also allows for pipes and cables to be installed without extensive digging and has the capacity to store excess water during storms and floods.

3. Glowing Roads

With the huge advancements in technology in the car industry it is important to note the role road markings already play in modern vehicles. Many 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 hard for both car and driver to see the markings, but this could all change.

On a small stretch of road in the Netherlands, streetlights have been replaced with glow-in-the-dark lines that guide drivers. This simple but effective innovation was dreamed up by designer Daan Roosegaarde. During the day these fluorescent strips absorb sunlight and at night this light is emitted back out again. Replacing streetlights – especially on less traveled roads – provides a sustainable solution without jeopardizing the driver’s safety.

4. Self-Healing Roads

Self-healing materials were voted one of the top 20 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. 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.

5. Electrified Roads

About 60 percent of carbon pollution from the transportation sector comes from passenger vehicles. If we electrify all of them with renewably generated, zero-carbon electricity, this could have a huge impact on reducing carbon emissions. However, the big issue with electric vehicles at present is the time they take to charge. Electric cars like the Tesla Model S can travel more than 250 miles on a single charge, but recharging can take up to 25 hours.

But research is being done into 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. Early models suggest that installing charging coils in 10 percent of our roadways will successfully extend the driving range of electric vehicles.

Information courtesy of Volvo Construction Equipment.

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