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January 27, 2020
The average person doesn’t give much thought to the roads that they drive on every day. Only when the road is full of potholes and falling apart do we think about them, and It’s not usually nice thoughts. Asphalt roads crisscross the landscape of America, and without them, our lives would be very different. Without the roads we take for granted, food wouldn’t get to grocery stores, medicine wouldn’t get to pharmacies, and the cable guy couldn’t come to fix the internet connection.
Fortunately, the roads aren’t going anywhere, and people work year after year to repair and improve them. Scientists and researchers are trying to find better ways to construct roads to make them smoother and to last longer. With new products and techniques in the mix, the future of asphalt materials and roads looks bright.
An ingenious solution to a huge problem involves steel wool and heat. Self-healing roads consist of steel wool added to the bitumen and stone. Induction heating is what makes this work. Induction heating is the rapid heating of metal with magnets—in this case, steel wool. Alternating currents go through the pavement, the steel wool heats up, and the binding agents once again become liquid and malleable. As such, tiny cracks repair themselves before they become large ones. However, they require a team of men with cold patch and sealcoat sprayers to fix them.
It’s better to maintain roads rather than have to replace them completely. But it’s not always easy to know when a road could use some attention and minor repairs. Small cracks that will turn in to large cracks and then giant holes when left alone. An experimental road embedded with tiny, solar-powered sensors may solve this issue. The sensors send data about the usage and condition of the road, so workers can perform repairs before it’s too late.
Asphalt is already an eco-friendly building product. This is because it contains old, ground-up asphalt that workers can recycle and reuse on new projects. But the recycled aggregate still needs binding agents and bitumen to work properly, so scientists are looking for ways to further greenify asphalt. They are mixing in other materials, such as old tires, used plastic bottles, and asphalt shingles, to see if they are as effective as the petroleum-based products.
Wireless power transfer is already common for recharging cell phones and small electronics. Now, experimental roads use technology to power electric vehicles. As electric cars become more affordable and are in higher demand, there’s no reason not to install this technology on all new roads. A magnetic field generates under the road and will charge the battery of any vehicle it comes in contact with at a stop sign or light.
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