Environment

Plastic road surface might be streets ahead of asphalt

Plastic road surface might be ...
VolkerWessels' PlasticRoad is only a concept at this stage, but the company is looking for partners to help develop a prototype
VolkerWessels' PlasticRoad is only a concept at this stage, but the company is looking for partners to help develop a prototype
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VolkerWessels' PlasticRoad is only a concept at this stage, but the company is looking for partners to help develop a prototype
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VolkerWessels' PlasticRoad is only a concept at this stage, but the company is looking for partners to help develop a prototype
A hollow space within PlasticRoad could be used to run cables and pipes and house traffic loop sensors
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A hollow space within PlasticRoad could be used to run cables and pipes and house traffic loop sensors
VolkerWessels says its PlasticRoad would also be more resistant to corrosion and last three times as long as asphalt
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VolkerWessels says its PlasticRoad would also be more resistant to corrosion and last three times as long as asphalt
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Asphalt covers more than 94 percent of the paved streets in the US, but have we gone down the wrong road with our choice of building material? Dutch firm VolkerWessels thinks so and has unveiled plans for roads crafted from recycled plastic, claiming the approach would significantly cut construction and maintenance time, as well as extend their expected lifespan.

VolkerWessels details a long list of potential benefits of pure plastic roads. First up, it is claimed the road could better withstand extreme temperatures, as low as -40° C (-40° F) and as high as 80° C (176° F). It would also be more resistant to corrosion and last three times as long as asphalt, while minimizing the need for maintenance (otherwise known as pesky roadworks and detours).

Because sections of the road could be prefabricated and installed on sand in a single piece, the company claims construction time for roads would be cut from months down to weeks. The material would also be lighter and allow better control over factors like road stiffness and water drainage, while a hollow space within could be used for all sorts of things. Some of ideas offered up by VolkerWessels include running cables and pipes and housing traffic loop sensors.

Further to the obvious environmental advantages in repurposing used plastic trash to build roads, the approach would lessen reliance on carbon-intensive asphalt production. And the company says that the more sustainable material would also better lend itself to forward-thinking infrastructure ideas like power generation and heated roads to stave off ice and snow.

VolkerWessels' PlasticRoad is only a concept at this stage, but the company is looking for partners to help develop a prototype to test things like how it performs in the wet. The Guardian reports that the Dutch city of Rotterdam is already entertaining the idea of carrying out a trial.

Source: VolkerWessels

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26 comments
catonb
These solutions are great for countries like the Netherlands. They only have about 88,000 miles of road. The fabrication and implementation is feasible. I'd be more interested in an overall solution for countries like the USA and China, both of whom carry 3 to 4 million miles of road. Perhaps using this on expressways in larger countries, which would need more maintenance more often. I'm also curious how the product handles scraping of snow.
Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret
Great idea. However, I can't help but think of situations of fire (burning car tires, ignited volatile chemicals) on these roads, and imagine it turning into a gooey mess.
Rkt9
With the recent reduced demand for recycled plastics this a great idea that should be tested here in the US.
Mark Thomas
This seems a great idea - reusing crap materials.
cstroud
These sections look hollow and the main problem is going to be formation of surface ice as temperatures drop in cold climates. The lack of mass in the structure will make this effect much more pronounced unlike a solid road which will receive heat from the ground below. Bridge decks are very susceptible to icing in cold weather as there is nothing below. I like the view of the services which look neat but I am wondering how they can be maintained without penetrations which will eventually leak water. The sections might compete well against alternatives for small bridge decks depending on their structural qualities. The fear of fire is a major issue. There might be a market in dry warm climates.
Milton
"power generation" and "heated roads"... this is starting to sound just as dumb as Solar Roadways.
piperTom
I wish them luck, but I doubt there is enough scrapped plastic to make much of a dent in road building. Also, I'd like to know about fire hazard. Asphalt in roads is mostly aggregate, so it doesn't burn easily. What about this stuff? Will the first car fire burn the whole road system?
AllenH
Conceptually this sounds like a great idea. It would be a great use for recycled plastic. However, I question whether the quantity of recyclable plastic available would be great enough to support very many miles of road. In that case we would have to resort to creating new plastic for this purpose, but if the durability and other qualities of the plastic road are superior to that of asphalt and since both are ultimately made from petroleum products, the switch might well be worth it.
CaptD
Why not build a bike way first and then scale it upwards as needed? It could become part of a Solarized Transportation Route that everyone using "personal mobility" devices (eBikes, eScooters, eMobility Chairs, eSkateboards or all similar devices) could use while limiting cars and trucks because of its width...
Bob Flint
Enough of the raw material is floating in our oceans, to bad decades ago we didn't put them to better use. The idea can work, but adhesion and changing surface conditions are many of the hurtles to overcome.