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On the road to a sustainable and durable future

Various initiatives are experimenting with new materials to build more sustainable roads in the future.

Many roads are made from asphalt or concrete, but neither are sustainable materials. Black asphalt adds to urban heat island, while the production of concrete releases a lot of CO2. With all these drawbacks, what will the roads of the future look like?

Wireless charging
There are more and more electric cars on the road, but one drawback is that the charging process is relatively long. So what if your car was charged while you were driving?

Recently, Sweden revealed the first road that charges your vehicle while driving, but this system requires physical contact with the car. Australian company Talga Resources developed a type of relatively cheap concrete that is supposed to make wireless charging possible.

The concrete is infused with graphene, which makes the material electrically conductive. It’s said to be 146 times as strong as ordinary concrete, produced with less cement (the main source of concrete’s emissions). This could potentially be used for wireless charging of both moving and parked vehicles. In addition, the conductive concrete could help de-ice of the road without the use of salt.

CO2 absorbing road
In Leek in the Netherlands, a road is constructed that both reflects light and absorbs CO2, developed by the company PolyCiviel. The active ingredient in the surface is olivine (magnesium iron silicate). Olivine reacts with CO2 and water, producing harmless carbonate salt.

The 2-kilometre long road is expected to absorb 40,000 kilograms of CO2, which are the emissions of 300,000 kilometres by car. These emissions will be absorbed over the course of about 8 years, after which the road will be ‘satisfied’ and needs to be replaced.

In addition to absorbing CO2, the reflective surface is expected to make the road safer as well.

Recycled plastic
In Kerkrade in the Netherlands the first road is being paved with bricks made from recycled plastic by start-up ENKB and students from Chemelot Innovation and Learning Labs (CHILL). The bricks weigh 75 per cent less than concrete bricks, which makes them easier and quicker to place, which is more pleasant for traffic as well as the pavers.

Printing asphalt
A more sustainable solution than replacing a road is fixing one. Potholes, for one, can be incredibly annoying, not to mention damage your vehicle. Researchers at the Univeristy of Leeds are working on a drone that can print asphalt, which could save money and material on the long term (see video below).

Other sustainable paving materials include tiles made from household waste, wood, solar tiles and self-healing asphalt. For other road materials, click here.

Photo: Larisa-K