September 16, 2013
Ten innovations which could reshape future roads
DAAN ROOSEGAARDE DESIGN
Asphalt isn't just for driving on anymore. The basic blacktop concept, which has endured for a century, is getting a makeover from the ground up, which could turn it into an interactive tool for drivers and administrators alike.
From Europe to the Middle East to North America, traffic engineers are working with IT programmers and chemical engineers to create a template for the next generation of road design.
Here’s a look at 10 roadbuilding innovations being worked on right now:
1. Plastic fantastic roads: Asphalt is a mix and more components are being added, from ground glass to recycled latex paint, to see if the result is a more resilient, cost-effective road and solves the issue of how to best recycle materials.
Vancouver is the first Canadian city diverting plastic waste to road construction.
The plastics are coming from Ontario, but the city hopes to have its own local source soon.
Post-consumer blue box plastics are separated, ground up and turned to a wax for inclusion in an asphalt warm mix.
It’s only one per cent of the mix.
2. Road right-of-ways can drive profits: The unused southern facing portions of east-west roads and clover leaf green spaces could be used to mount solar panels if there’s an electricity grid within a reasonable distance.
At least one Canadian company has floated the idea saying, since the government already owns the land, has zoning rights and is responsible for generating power, solar farms along road right-of-ways are a natural fit.
3. Pay as you go roads: A combination of GPS transponders and an eye-in-the sky satellite could make both toll booths and parking meters obsolete.
PaybySky is a Toronto company with a big idea around a transponder, which tracks where a car was driven, on what roads at what time and for how many kilometres.
It would also track where it was parked and for how long.
The registered owner gets a bill each month based on their driving.
If they drove on congested roads at rush hour they’d pay more.
If they parked downtown during the day, they’d pay a premium.
However if they travelled at off-peak times and parked in designated lots — or left the car at home — they’d pay less or nothing at all.
4. Warning! This road could freeze over: Dynamic paint that reacts to temperature is a marketing gimmick to sell beer. The idea is that when the beer is at optimum temperature, it tastes better.
The same idea, however, could work for roads.
Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde and Heijmans, a Dutch industrial engineering company, have teamed up on a series of ideas and the dynamic paint concept is but one.
The beneficiary — or test lab — of these ideas is the Dutch province of Brabant near the Belgium border.
Some of the ideas are about to be or are in pilot tests.
Specially formulated paint will change and become visible when the temperature falls to freezing, displaying as giant white snowflakes giving approaching drivers a “heads up” that the road conditions could be slippery.
5. Glow in the dark lane markers: Reflective lane marker paint is nothing new, but Roosegaarde wants to take it a step further and use luminescent paint which will glow in the dark for up to 10 hours after nightfall.
The paint absorbs sunlight during the day and will pick up energy from headlights and then glow, allowing motorists to see bends and other upcoming intersection markings and lane changes way beyond the reach of their headlights.
6. Lights are on, someone’s coming: Streetlights and sign lighting burning all night are a waste of energy so Roosegaarde has designed a system powered by wind with sensors that note the approach of vehicles and turn on the lights before the car gets there and then off when it passes.
7. Recharge as you drive: Roosegaarde said he had an electric car and got rid of it because recharging was such a hassle.
His idea: a special “green” lane on highways, at specific points, where electric cars can wirelessly recharge while driving over it.
It would use touchless induction technology like electric toothbrushes, but the final cost and how to charge motorists for the recharge will be major hurdles to overcome.
Solar or wind power along the road side might be considered as power sources. Induction charging has been used to recharge buses in Torino since 2003 and also in places like Utah and the Netherlands.
The system allows vehicles to carry fewer batteries on board.
8. Solar energy roads: Anyone who has worked on a road crew knows asphalt is a heat magnet.
What if the road surface could convert it to energy and store it?
Scott and Julie Brusaw of Sandpoint, Idaho have been working on a project to create a durable pad, to embed in a road, which is capable of capturing solar energy and holds up to traffic.
They also see the panels used in parking lots.
They’ve had some setbacks, but raised enough money and interest from backers and the Federal Highway Administration to create a Phase II prototype using ultra tough glass.
Tests so far include load, traction and impact and the glass is holding up.
9. Anti-icing roads: Some roads are just so treacherous in winter that drivers risk their lives if they use them.
The Wolf River bridge in Crandon, Wis. was the site of many accidents for years until engineer Russ Alger, at Michigan Tech’s Institute of Snow Research, invented a permanent sealant to replace salt on problem road stretches.
Now licensed by Agriculture and Chemical giant Cargill, SafeLane is an epoxy mixed with dolomitic limestone which overlays the road surface and allows de-icers, like magnesium chloride, to bond into its porous structure and stick up to 10 times longer.
One coating lasts 20 years, reduces magnesium chloride use by 75 per cent and eliminates rock salt use.
10. Good vibrations: The rumble of traffic is usually an annoyance but it’s an inevitable side product of a road.
Innowatch, an R&D company in Haifa Israel, has developed a piezoelectric generator to harvest mechanical energy imparted to railways, roadways and pedestrian ways. Instead of being wasted as heat, the piezoelectric generators create electricity.
The concept works through a phenomenon by which certain materials will generate electricity when stressed. Cost, practical capture and distribution remain hurdles though the concept has been tested in Israel.
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