Self-Repairing Roadways, the End of Potholes?

Damage to roadways is not only an inconvenience and an annoyance.

Roads in poor condition are a common cause of accidents and a very real danger to all who drive on them. With more roads and pavement than ever before, the greatest difficulty lies in maintaining and repairing damage before it can cause any real harm. There is good news, however, according to The Verge. Potholes and cracked asphalt may soon be considered a matter of outdated technology, as work moves forward on creating roads which are not just durable, but can essentially heal.

Erik Schlangen, a materials scientist at Delft University, and his team have been working on a method of creating asphalt infused with steel fibers. While steel might be able to give greater strength to the roads, Schlangen is focusing more on the metal’s other properties. Any damage or dents caused to such a roadway can be repaired with the use a special magnet. Running an induction machine over the surface would heat and soften the asphalt, returning it to its smoother form. Current research estimates that such a roadway would have twice the lifespan of current roads while costing just 25% more to build.

Clearly, installing these new surfaces on even just the main roads or highways of a country would be an enormous endeavor, but once installed, they would produce great savings. The Netherlands implemented its first of these roads in 2010, now boasting 12 roads which use it. If the Netherlands used this material on all of its roads, it’s calculated that it could save as much as 90 million Euro per year on road maintenance and repair. What’s more, because of the steel fibers within the asphalt, it is technically possible to transmit electricity or even data through the roads. Electric cars could potentially recharge slightly while waiting in traffic.

Schlangen’s team is also working on new ways to maintain buildings through a special type of limestone-generating bacteria within the concrete of structures. But they’re not the only ones looking at self-repairing infrastructure. Researchers at the British university of Bath are also looking at repairing roadways using bio-concrete containing this productive form of bacteria. China has implemented the first of what are proposed to be many roads utilizing self-repair since January of this year. The Chinese roads are based on regenerator microcapsules and a two-year study will be carried out to test their viability.

Bio-concrete like this may be the answer to to cracked and damaged roads and buildings.
Bio-concrete like this may be the answer to cracked and damaged roads and buildings.

So, until someone can find a way to make Solar Roadways as viable as we dared to hope they would be, there are still many ways we can rethink our roads. Soon they may all be repairing themselves, charging our cars, maybe even providing Wi-fi. After that, who knows where materials science can take us?

Ronan Daly

Ronan Daly is a staff writer for My Good Planet who specialises in Technology and Science. With a Masters Degree in English, and over a decade's experience as a teacher and writer, Ronan has brought a breezy, learned style to My Good Planet, making occasionally complex material accessible and understandable to all.

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