One of the largest issues with our current infrastructure is our roadways. Asphalt roadways are cheap to construct, however they degrade much quicker than concrete roadways. Because of the porosity of asphalt, weather has a much greater effect on it especially during the winter months. This degradation has become one of the most time consuming and costly expenses of infrastructure maintenance.
The blog post which I have decided to report on was Benefits and Constraints of “Self Repairing” Asphalt by Robert Dechant with ‘Thoughts on the Engineering Industry. In this post, he talked about a man named Erik Schlangen who has been working on designing a new form of asphalt which integrates steel wool into the mix design.
The benefits of this new mix are that a vehicle fitted with induction coils could drive over the roadway, quickly heat the new asphalt mix, and drive on. When the mix is heated it molds back together, sealing up any cracks that exist on or beneath the surface and re-smoothing the surface. This would save thousands of dollars in both labor and material costs, as well as saving time of commuters in busy areas like cities.
As much as this is a great idea, there are a few things that Robert says need to be researched further. The new asphalt mix needs to be capable of maintaining large vehicle loads over extended periods time like current asphalt designs. If the new steel wool mix is incapable of maintaining large loads, it could ultimately become more costly than continuing to pave and maintain roadways the same way we have been for the last few years.
One thing that I would like to emphasize on that Robert did not mention in his blog post is the possible environmental impact of this new mix design. If we could use one layer of asphalt that would repair its self over a long period of time instead of constantly re-paving roads, we could significantly reduce the environmental impact of our roadways.
I will personally be looking further into this new technology, and would advise any other civil engineers to as well.