Next time you hit a pothole, think about this: Suppose the road on which you were traveling was made of plastic rather than asphalt? Would it make a difference and, if so, what kind of difference?
VolkerWessels, a construction firm based in the Netherlands, is about to find out.
Simon Jorritsma, from InfraLinq, which is a subdivision of VolkerWessels and KWS Infra, said the idea for plastic roadways was born when the company examined the road problems encountered in cities. KWS Infra works with asphalt, and it’s no secret that extreme temperatures and weather conditions affect asphalt, resulting in potholes large and small. Some can do significant damage to vehicles.
In an email to Think Progress, Jorrisma wrote “For contractors, asphalt is a great and sound product to build roads. However, contractors have to meet more and more demands concerning noise reduction, water permeability and flatness. These questions and conditions were the inspiration which have led to the idea of the PlasticRoad.”
According to VolkerWessels, plastic roads would be “virtually maintenance free” and unaffected by corrosion and the weather. With the ability to handle temperatures ranging from -40ºF to 176ºF, the lifespan of the roads would be triple that of those made of asphalt.
There’s an obvious monetary benefit from the longer life and low to no maintenance, but the benefits don’t stop there. Any type of recycled plastic can be used and the company noted that the main goal was to prevent plastic from going into the oceans. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch immediately comes to mind.
Carbon emissions could also be cut. Asphalt produces a carbon footprint of 1.6 million tons of carbon annually. Plastic roadways, with their longer lifespan and durability, would negate the need for road resurfacing that contributes to heightened CO2 levels.
Testing still has to be done to determine if plastic roads are feasible in different conditions. For instance, would they be safe when wet? The city of Rotterdam indicated that it might be interested in serving as a test site.
Jaap Peters, a representative of the Rotterdam City Council’s engineering bureau said, “We’re very positive towards the developments around PlasticRoad. Rotterdam is a city that is open to experiments and innovative adaptations in practice. We have a ‘street lab’ available where innovations like this can be tested.”
If Rotterdam decides not to go ahead, Jorrisma said other cities have expressed interest, so finding a test site won’t pose a problem.
No stranger to innovation, the Netherlands opened the first solar bike path in the world last year. A 230-foot roadway with embedded solar cells and protected by layers of safety glass, in the first 6 months of operation it exceeded expectations and produced about 3,000 kilowatt hours of energy—enough to power a small house for a year. About 150,000 cyclists have used the road as of May of this year.
That solar roadway brings to mind a story I wrote about last year. Engineers Julie and Scott Brusaw launched a wildly successful Indiegogo campaign that is ongoing. If you haven’t checked it out yet, it’s a great vision for the future – that future is just around the corner, and you can be part of it.
There is so much to recommend forward-thinking projects like plastic roads and solar roadways: cleaner air, putting the brakes on climate change, creating millions of new jobs, not to mention, in the case of solar roadways, not having to shovel snow off your driveway and having your electric cables underground, safe from weather-related outages.
With additions from Virginia DUI lawyer Karin Porter