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New Idea to Prevent Potholes

Almost every driver, everywhere, loathes potholes and the risks they pose. Could a thermo-active solution help solve the problem?


Scientists in the UK think their idea is worth testing. Dr. Cao, a lecturer in the School of Sustainability, Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Surrey, told New Atlas that three elements are needed for the formation of potholes: The first is surface cracks that form and expand over time due to traffic, and we can't avoid that.

“The second is water, and the third is the freeze/thaw cycling. We get these small cracks, and then water seeps into the cracks. In winter, it gets down to about -10 °C (14 °F) in the UK, so that water freezes and expands, pushing open those cracks. In spring, when the temperature rises again, that water thaws and contracts."

The repetition of freezing and thawing and subsequent expansion and contraction can weaken the asphalt binder - the glue of the road surface. "This causes all kinds of deterioration; potholes are just one problem, but it's a major one. So I started thinking about how to warm up the road surface in winter, so no freezing happens," says Dr. Cao.

By successfully regulating temperature, scientists expect to extend the lifespan of road surfaces, reduce carbon emissions, and lower the cost of road maintenance. Dr. Cao, in collaboration with National Highway, have been funded to trial ground source heat pumps - to cool roads in summer and warm them in winter.

Dr. Cao says: “At the moment, a typical motorway or A-road surface lasts 20 years, but this is likely to reduce as extreme weather increases. However, by regulating the temperature of road surfaces, they should last significantly longer. Aside from the safety benefits and reduction to car damage, think of the reduction in expensive, inconvenient roadworks.”

How much is all this going to cost, you may reasonably ask. Dr. Cao told New Atlas: “We haven't done a cost analysis and I feel like we couldn't do one until the field trial. It'll be an additional cost to transport infrastructure, but we think there'll be benefits in terms of carbon emissions from pothole repairs... and also in the lifespan of the new roads."

So, by any definition, we're still along way from ridding roads of the scourge of potholes, but it's heartening to learn of innovative ideas to prevent the problem in the first place.


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