Could roads made from PLASTIC spell the end of potholes? Recycled bottles could finally end the scourge of every motorist

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  • Recycled plastic bottles would be used to build the prefab road tiles
  • Asphalt puts 1.6m tons of CO2 into the air a year globally, company say
  • Hollow design is lighter and provides easy access to cables and pipes 
  • PlasticRoad to be built in Dutch city of Rotterdam in three years time

Crumbling and neglected roads can lead to dangerous potholes and agonising delays as a result of costly road works. But a new design could mean when a section of road gets damaged, it can easily be removed and replaced, after a Dutch company announced their plans to build prefab plastic roads that could slot together like Lego bricks. The project, dubbed PlasticRoad, would see Rotterdam become the first city in the world to lay down plastic road tiles made in a factory in advance. The idea has been put forward as a greener alternative to asphalt, as each module will be made from recycled plastic bottles. But a company director has expressed concerns that the design could be slippery when wet. The company behind the idea, construction firm VolkerWessels, said that the surface would require less maintenance than the traditional road building material asphalt and could withstand more extreme temperatures – between -40°C (-40°F) and 80°C (176°F).

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VolkerWessels also said that the roads would be quicker to build, taking weeks instead of months. The plan could also be more environmentally friendly, as asphalt is responsible for 1.6m tons of CO2 emissions a year globally, making up two per cent of all transport emissions, according to the firm. ‘Plastic offers all kinds of advantages compared to current road construction, both in laying the roads and maintenance,’ Rolf Mars, the director of VolkerWessels’ roads subdivision, KWS Infra,told The Guardian. The firm claim that their plastic road would be lighter, reducing the load on the ground, and hollow, providing easy access to cables and pipes to run under the surface. It is hoped that the lightweight design and streamlined construction process would reduce problems caused by road works.

So far the project is still in a conceptual stage but the company say they will be ready to lay down the first plastic roads within three years. They have chosen the city of Rotterdam as it is enthusiastic about greener building practices, according to Jaap Peters, from the city council’s engineering bureau. ‘We’re very positive towards the developments around PlasticRoad,’ he said. ‘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. Mars said the idea had enormous potential for future developments. Ideas suggested include heated roads or ultra-quiet surfaces. ‘It’s still an idea on paper at the moment; the next stage is to build it and test it in a laboratory to make sure it’s safe in wet and slippery conditions and so on,’ he said. ‘We’re looking for partners who want to collaborate on a pilot – as well as manufacturers in the plastics industry, we’re thinking of the recycling sector, universities and other knowledge institutions.’

The Solar Powered Road

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To date, solar panels have been installed in a host of locations, from roofs to open fields. One bit of infrastructure that has yet to be exploited though is perhaps also the largest in total area that covers Earth – the roads our cars drive on. But a company in Idaho is hoping to change all that by creating ‘Solar Roadways’ that not only provide power but also create smart digital driving surfaces as well. Co-founders Scott and Julie Brusaw sought funding for their ambitious proposal on croudfunding website Indiegogo. They have developed a small segment of solar-powered road to prove their concept works. And they’re hoping to one day roll it out on roads through the US and ultimately the rest of the world in their bid to provide a novel method of accessing green energy. Scott and Julie explain that their design has a number of uses. First is obviously the ability to harness the power of the sun – they say, if installed nationwide in the US, their roads could provide more renewable energy than the entire energy the country uses. This electricity can be transferred to nearby buildings, neighbourhoods and cities, and they claim it can also charge electric cars.

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