Imagine driving along a roadway that produces energy from the sun or the motion of your vehicle. Or, finding your way on a street that lights up at night without using energy. These are a few of the innovative road solutions that could change the way we travel each day.
There are nearly 36 million miles of roads in 223 countries across the globe, as cited by the CIA Factbook. Most of those roads were made from petroleum products and other chemicals that have a lingering environmental impact throughout their life cycle, according to the National Asphalt Paving Association.
Some recent technological innovations have uncovered potential solutions for transforming traditional roadways into useful infrastructure that also contributes to a positive impact for our planet.
Plastic Roads and Technological Innovations
Discarded plastics are choking the oceans and landfills, and some companies are taking those castoffs and turning them into road materials.
In England, startup MacRebur gathers plastic waste and grinds it up for use in road materials. The pulverized plastic replaces an oil-based substance known as bitumen, which binds sand, rock and limestone into an asphalt surface. Roads made with the new material are less likely to crack and can help improve vehicle gas mileage, reported The Drive.com.
Netherlands construction firm VolkerWessels plans to salvage plastic pollution from coastal areas and convert it into lightweight, maintenance-free prefabricated roadway modules with hollow interiors that can be fitted with electrical cables and drainpipes.
In 2016, about 1.5 percent of traffic accidents in India were due to poor road conditions, according to a government report. To sustainably improve roadway safety, the government has invested in technology to build roads with recycled plastics. So far, more than 100,000 kilometers of the road has been laid, and each kilometer of single-lane road consumes a metric ton of plastic waste. The plastic’s flexibility means the road lasts two to three times longer than conventional surfaces and reduces the risk of potholes.
With millions of miles of roads lining the world, turning streets into solar power generators seems to make sense, according to a report from Singularity Hub.
In China, an effort is underway to build a two-kilometer (1.2 miles) stretch of solar road using a new type of transparent asphalt, one of several such efforts around the globe, according to Singularity Hub.
In a small village in France, a one-kilometer (0.6 miles) road boasts 30,000 square feet of solar panel, and officials hope to be able to power the village’s streetlights, Fast Company noted.
In a small town outside Amsterdam, a 15,000-foot stretch of a highway has no streetlights. Instead, stripes of bright green paint guide cars through the darkness, like airport runway lighting. Researchers developed a high-powered glow-in-the-dark paint that absorbs solar energy during the day and releases it at night, reported Wired. The goal, the designer said, is to replace streetlights with solar-powered lighted roads someday.
A bike path in Poland uses different technology to achieve a similar bioluminescent lighting effect. The pathway, made with phosphor, can emit light for up to 10 hours, explained CityLab.
Researchers in Mexico developed a new formula to make phosphorescent cement that stores solar energy and emits it as light for up to 12 hours, according to Scientific American. The material could be a boon for developing nations or remote areas that don’t have access to a steady supply of electricity.
Molecules in Motion
In the United Kingdom, the average road carries up to 3,000 cars per hour, and innovative road solutions can transform that traffic movement into electricity. These kinetic roads use the piezoelectric effect to convert mechanical motion into electricity, according to Phys.org. Kinetic roads could generate enough electricity to power streetlights and traffic signals and provide traffic data for real-time monitoring.
Underground Power, an Italian startup, has developed Lybra, a tire-like rubber paving material that absorbs kinetic energy from passing vehicles and can produce “the equivalent of energy used by 40 families.”
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