Cracked roads full of potholes could be a thing of the past thanks to science, as self-healing roads could repair themselves and charge electric vehicles while at it.
Potholes are every driver's nightmare — they can damage your car, create safety hazards and make the ride bumpy and uncomfortable. Repairing broken roads, meanwhile, means closed off lanes, congested traffic and rerouting, which further adds to the hassle.
Broken infrastructure is a major problem affecting roads in the United States and numerous other countries worldwide, but scientists are working on a great solution. More specifically, Dutch scientists are developing materials that can self-heal, and they're focusing on the two essential materials for infrastructure: concrete and asphalt.
Asphalt is generally used for road surfaces because it's easy to apply, it's porous and it becomes a hard surface once it cools. The main drawback, however, is that asphalt is not durable enough and it doesn't take long until an asphalt road gets cracks and deep potholes.
According to Erik Schlangen, a material scientist at the Netherlands's Delft University, self-healing asphalt may be the solution to making asphalt roads more durable and safe.
How It Works
Schlangen's modified asphalt includes small steel fibers, which make it conductive. Running a hefty induction machine over the asphalt heats it up and the machine would act like a magnet for the steel fibers, which would bind together and fix the cracks in the asphalt on their own. In other words, it's not fully self-repairing since it still requires an induction machine, but it gets pretty close and it would be less of a hurdle than current road-fixing solutions.
The scientist tested the self-healing asphalt on 12 roads in the Netherlands, one of which has been open to the public for the past seven years. While all 12 roads are in mint condition, Schlangen notes that even regular asphalt roads are in good condition for the first seven years or even up to a decade. The challenge comes later on, so the difference should start showing in the next few years.
Schlangen estimates that the special self-healing asphalt would cost roughly 25 percent more overall compared with regular asphalt, but in the long run it could lead to huge savings since it could double the life of the road. According to one estimate, the Netherlands could save as much as 90 million Euro ($98 million) per year if it uses self-healing asphalt for all roads.
Charging Electric Vehicles
Self-healing properties are not the only cool thing regarding this new material, as Schlangen's lab has some other neat ideas that could be revolutionary.
For instance, Schlangen tells The Verge that mixing steel fibers into the asphalt would also enable one to send information to it. With this in mind, it could be possible to charge electric vehicles on the road while driving.
"This is early, but we are going to make some trials in front of traffic lights, where the idea is that you can charge your car a bit while waiting in traffic," notes Schlangen.