Self-Healing Roads That Recharge Electric Cars?



America’s roads are in dire need of a makeover. (Image Credit: flickr via ChrisUK)

Outside of the United States, roads are being developed and tested using new materials that will self-heal, and possess the ability to send information electronically.

We all know that many U.S. roads are in rough shape. This is especially true in areas that experience cold winters. Our roads are filled with potholes, and municipalities are scrambling to find funding to make the necessary repairs. Even when the repairs are carried out, they are temporary.

America is really in need of brand-new roads. The quick fix method is not a long-term solution, and the amount of money being spent to repeatedly repair our roadways adds up. Though the initial expense would be much greater, coming up with a new, lasting solution would save money and headache in the long run.


Wouldn’t it be nice if all of America’s roads looked like this? (Image Credit: flickr via Dave Honan)

How about a self-healing road?

Materials scientist at the Netherlands’ Delft University, Erik Schlangen, has the answer. It’s a self-healing asphalt that contains steel fibers. The fibers can be magnetized and can conduct heat. Heating this material warms the asphalt and close the road’s cracks. A machine that works like a magnet can be used to aid the process, but just the heat of the sun, and cars driving over the surface can help to some extent.

The self-healing asphalt is already employed on 12 roads in the Netherlands. One has been in use with the new material since 2010, and it’s still in perfect shape. Although a normal road would likely still be okay after the seven years. So, we won’t know the lasting impact for quite some time. But there’s another caveat that’s perhaps even more deserving of mention. Schlangen pointed out that:

“Putting steel fibers in the asphalt mean that you can send information to it, so it might be possible to charge electric cars on the road they’re driving on. 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.”

If these roads can be constructed for a reasonable cost, when compared to traditional asphalt, and there’s a possibility of being able to send information, or charge vehicles, this is definitely worthy of consideration.

Though both Democrats and Republicans seems to agree that infrastructure development and maintenance are paramount, funding is an issue. The United States’ most substantial infrastructure development took place in the 1950s and 1960s. Since then, most monies have been steered toward maintenance. We can’t just maintain forever, and people are generally more supportive of something new, rather than fixing the old.

This doesn’t hold true in the construction industry. Regardless of scientific research, and new materials, building companies tend to stick to what they know and like. It sounds a whole lot like automakers when it comes to electric cars, or even most typical  consumers for that matter. University of Virginia engineering professor, Rider Foley, explained:

“The construction industry specifically is lagging behind some of the early predictions and forecasts … There’s all this materials testing that has gone on with concrete for 50 to 75 years. There’s types of integrity testing and stress testing and loading and all of that, and that’s a body of knowledge that civil engineers have confidence in … it’s hard for them to kind of see some of the advantages of changing the design like this.”

Innovation in major industries like construction and automotive will never come easy. Science is often thrown out the window, and forward progression is stifled. It will all come, in a matter of time. Our infrastructure won’t last forever. It’s just a matter of when.

Source: The Verge

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15 Comments on "Self-Healing Roads That Recharge Electric Cars?"

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Wireless Dynamic and Static charging makes no sense while on the go. For home use, it’s absolutly great. the bull’s eye is small, fine for parking at home. But on the road, at a stop light you’d have to be at the exact spot without any reference or gidance, tough call and good luck! That bull’s eye is, of course, circular so not only do you have to be within 6 inches from right to left but also front and back. unless the guidance is in the car’s display, it’s a no go. Anyway, by the time Dynamic wireless charging comes to fruitition, batteries will have made so much improvement, you wont ever need Dynamic charging.

What is it about the idea of putting EV chargers in public roads that attracts so many clueless people to them, like moths to a flame?

Do people honestly not realize just how expensive that would make building and maintaining roads? We already have a problem paying for the maintenance of roads in this country. Why in the world would any educated person want to make that situation many, many times worse?

The first half of this proposal, implanting steel fibers to make asphalt “self-healing”, sounds like an interesting idea. I’d certainly like to see more testing of the idea. Anything that could affordably extend the lifetime of roads would be a good thing.

The second half of the idea, trying to use that as an outrageously expensive crutch to allow EVs to have smaller battery packs, is every bit as unaffordable and clueless as all the previous times it has been suggested.

Strongly disagree.
Supplying average power demand over long distance and time is better than repeatedly​ stopping and charging after driving. Especially for shipping and the like.

Under 5% of the population would maybe benefit from dynamic charging. How can anybody justify such a gigantic endeavor at the cost of billions and billions it would cost the rest of us.
Buy hey, keep dreaming.

We already do that for shipping today. Over the road shopping is massively subsidized by all other road users (and the rest of society) today. This would be par for the course. 30 ton trucks do 1000s of times more damage to the roads than even heavy SUVs yet pay only 10x to 100x more to use the road.

Also, ~everyone who used dynamic charging roads would benefit from almost no wear on their vehicle while using same. Battery degradation would be greatly lessened with such a scheme.

Tell you what, Nick: Why don’t you estimate the cost of electrifying just 1 mile of public roads, multiply that by the number of miles of Interstate highways plus Federal highways in the USA — don’t forget to factor in for multi-lane highways! — add in the cost of rebuilding all those highways that would need to have the chargers embedded, and then divide the total by the number of taxpayers in the US of A.

If, after that, you still think that this idea has even a snowball’s chance in hell of ever making sense, then do get back to us with the figures.

I think there’s a good reason I’ve never seen anybody advocating on-the-fly charging actually come up with a “napkin math” cost analysis for rebuilding and upgrading all the major roads in the country in the manner suggested. It’s likely because anyone who actually does the math very quickly realizes how hopelessly unaffordable this idea is.

This comes from the same country that installed solar panels on road surfaces and thought that the resultant energy could be used to melt off the snow on top! The sheer lack of understanding of basic thermodynamics is one thing, but the fact that they actually installed those on a test track speaks to something far worse. There must be something seriously wrong with the way Dutch kids are learning about basic physics and engineering. If I’m not mistaken, there was at least one US city that bought those “solar roads” before they were laughed out of the room. I wouldn’t be surprised if some small city in Colorado installs these roads and promotes it in their brochures.

Hey Dan!

I actually started to call the idea of dynamic chargers embedded in all major roads “galactically stupid”, but then decided that term should be reserved for “solar roads”. If there is any idea even more ridiculous, more impractical, and more unaffordable than ubiquitous use of dynamic charging, it’s “solar roads”.

Yeah, you have a good point about basic thermodynamics there. But hey, the Dutch have not cornered the market on galactic stupidity! The article linked below is about a test deployment of “solar road” panels in Idaho.

The same failure to understand thermodynamics is present in that article, which also claims that energy captured from sunlight could be used to melt snow on the panels.

Second “prize” for suggesting that LED lights embedded in the panels should be used to display signage, such as arrows directing traffic. Hey, why not use lights to replace the stripes dividing lanes, too! Because what we really need is to have a constant power drain from embedded lights, rather than just painting lines on the road. /sarcasm^2

The stupid, it burns!

Idaho! I knew it was one of the mountain states where a town believed the bit about getting more energy from the solar road than the sun puts in. If they had talked to a high school science student, they would have figured out that a black road surface with a lot of thermal mass behind it already heats up at the most efficient rate possible when exposed to the sun without hare brained electronics converting between light and electric and heat! Sorry Coloradans, didn’t mean to cast aspersions on your scientific acumen. As far as self healing goes, all that they had to do was talk to the engineers in their public works department. It’s not the heat that makes the road smooth and flat, it’s the roller that goes over it once the bitumen is hot enough. If the passing of cars heats the road past its meeting point, you’ll just get ruts when the next car goes by. You can see what happens in places like Texas where the sun heats up a patched road’s asphalt past melting – you get something that looks like the top of a muffin, not a smooth glaze like in their… Read more »

While we’re on the topic of thermodynamics, the mayor of Boston during a particularly bad winter asked the folks at MIT if it was feasible to use flame throwers to clear snow. The response from MIT (summary:don’t use flame throwers, use salt) is just priceless.

Why they don’t raise the gasoline tax $.10 this year and then five cents each of the next four years I don’t know. In many parts of the world gasoline at four to six dollars a gallon. While gas prices are relatively low in the United States they need to adjust the gasoline tax. Cars get at least twice as much mileage that they used to and the amount they collect is the same as 20 years ago which means that equals about a third of the value when it was originally started

Many states are implementing new gasoline taxes this year to address the road maintenance issues. All of this are temporary fixes.

We should raise the federal gas tax then index it to inflation. We don’t because it is politically unpopular. This is one of the flaws in our system, people won’t do what needs to be done.

Mdstj asked:

“Why they don’t raise the gasoline tax $.10 this year and then five cents each of the next four years I don’t know.”

Because seriously proposing that would end the career of any American politician suggesting it.

Trump could do it. All he has to say is it’s good for America, and pesto, people would love the idea.
But it is a limited time offer, so maybe put it up twice as much while he’s got the chance.