Road to the Future | The B1M

The global road network is one of the largest
systems ever built by man. In the United States alone, the total length
of roadway exceeds 6.6 million kilometres – enough to circle the Earth 165 times. While relatively simple to build as compared
to other structures – like skyscrapers or dams – the sheer scale of the global network
makes road construction one of the largest sources of material consumption on our planet. While road types can vary greatly depending
on their use, location and construction method the majority are formed from crushed rock, sand and asphalt in a process that releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the
atmosphere. In order to curb the environmental impact
of road construction, a number of new innovations are now being trialled. Replacing some of the finite resources used
in road construction with one of humanity’s most notorious waste products – all whilst
extending the lifespan of the roadway itself – makes a lot of sense. In India, the process of melting plastic to
fill in potholes has been happening on a small scale for a number of years. British engineer, Toby McCartney, recognised
the benefit of using plastic in roads while travelling the country and developed a method
of turning plastic bottles into small pellets that could be added to an asphalt mix to increase
its bulk. McCartney’s solution has created roadways
that are 60% stronger and last 10 times longer than those built with conventional methods. The UK county of Cumbria quickly noticed the
benefits of this innovation and have adopted the process for new public roads in the region. Using 3-10 kilograms of waste plastic per
tonne of asphalt – and with roughly 10 tonnes of asphalt used in every kilometre of roadway
construction – this process has the potential to lock-up a considerable amount of waste
material that could otherwise end-up in landfill or our oceans. Taking things a step further, Dutch company
KWS, together with Wavin and Total, have developed PlasticRoad; a prefabricated, modular roadway
made from recycled plastic. The product’s anticipated lifespan is three
times longer than that of a normal road build-up. It’s also four times lighter and can be
constructed 70% faster than a traditional asphalt roadway. PlasticRoad’s hollow design allows service
pipes and cables to be fed through its road deck without the need for extensive digging. Some of the space can also be used to store excess water during storms. With a number of trial projects now planned
– including this bike path in the Netherlands, which opened in September 2018 – you could
see prefabricated plastic roads on a street near you in the not too distant future. Incorporating solar panels directly into the
road network has the potential to turn an otherwise static piece of infrastructure into
a major source of renewable energy production. Companies such as Solar Roadways in the United
States, Wattway in France and SolaRoad in the Netherlands have all developed prototype
systems that are durable enough to withstand traffic loads and the elements. While the concept may sound advantageous,
critics have raised a number of concerns around this new type of roadway – including the safety
of vehicles driving over the toughened glass or silica that is required to protect the
photovoltaic elements, and how effective horizontal solar panels can be as compared to those positioned
diagonally on roofs. Several pilot schemes are now underway, seeking
to overcome these challenges. With a drive to reduce pollution, recycle
plastic and construct a more sustainable built environment, innovative solutions like these
could make a significant difference when applied to something as vast as the global road network. If you enjoyed this video and would like to
get more from the definitive video channel for construction, subscribe to The B1M.


  1. I hoped that you wouldn’t speak of solar roads. I would in that case give you some technical credit. FAIL… What a shame. It means that your far to be an engineer. But I guess, it’s nice to be in politiciens dream, or science fiction. NO SOLAR ROAD HAS, AND WILL NEVER BE EFFICIENT. Very simple calculus proved that since a long time.

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