Asphalt covers a lot of world and is worth billions of dollars and the entire industries rely on this material to make roads to transport goods. The catch is, this material that we use to make our roads is bad for the environment and requires a lot of maintenance. Filling potholes and similar road damage takes time, labour, and of course, even more asphalt.
In Germany some researchers have found a way to make asphalt self-repairing meaning that the road can last a lot longer before patching is required and will require less maintenance!
Roads are often overlooked when it comes to the impact of cars on the environment, but we can’t ignore the roads have on the environment when discussing the practicality of cars. Asphalt is used to make roads and the process of creating asphalt is very energy intensive. In Vancouver, they are looking into ways to lower the negative impact of car infrastructure by making greener roads.
First, it allows asphalt to be heated at 20 to 40 degrees less than is necessary when using the traditional “hot mix” method. This reduces the amount of fuel necessary for the process, which in turn reduces the resulting greenhouse-gas production by as much as 50 per cent. Second, although there are other paving materials that have similar characteristics, they’re normally made of petroleum products. GreenMantra’s product comes from recycled plastics.
The wax is slightly more expensive than petroleum-based materials, but GreenMantra and the City of Vancouver are looking to bring down the cost by sourcing cheaper plastic. The price could also drop of its own accord, as GreenMantra begins to produce the stuff in greater quantities.
Here’s a challenge from Eran Ben-Joseph: name a great parking lot.
Couldn’t do it, could you? Neither could I, and neither could Ben-Joseph. In a new book ReThinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking he explores the horribleness of all that space that car drivers demand. If you look at North American cities in the 60s and 70s all you’ll see is a giant slab of pavement for automobiles instead of people. Today, those cities are dealing with the car-created destruction.
Where’s the good news in this? Well, Ben-Joseph’s book is all about finding ways to make these wastes of space practical and helpful to the areas around them. Some solutions might be to design a parking lot to serve the local community or to make these parking spots actually green.
So what can be done to make parking lots greener and better integrated into their civic surroundings? Ben-Joseph recommends a menu of ideas to improve parking lots according to their settings — which he regards as “a healthier approach to planning, rather than giving prescriptive ideas about how to design them.”
For one thing, planners might simply plant trees throughout parking lots, as the architect Renzo Piano did at Fiat’s Lingotto factory in Turin, Italy. Low-use parking lots need not be entirely paved in asphalt, either: Miami’s Sun Life Stadium features large areas of grass lots that are environmentally better year-round.
“The whole space does not have to be designed the same way,” Ben-Joseph says. “Overflow parking can be designed differently, and not paved with asphalt.”
Lots can also incorporate green technology. Some parking spaces in Palo Alto, Calif., have charging stalls for electric vehicles. A Walmart parking lot in Worcester, Mass., has 12 wind turbines that generate clean electricity for the store. The Sierra Nevada Brewery parking lot in Chico, Calif., has solar panels built into its lattice structure.
It should come to no surprise that the sun melts snow and ice. Indeed, one of the reasons we have such severe climate change is because the energy from the sun isn’t being reflected off of snow (the albedo effect).
Some enterprising researchers have proposed that we capture the energy the sun is tossing at us by using roads to store energy that can be later used to melt snow or provide energy. Imagine all the roads in North America as an energy source!
“We have mile after mile of asphalt pavement around the country, and in the summer it absorbs a great deal of heat, warming the roads up to 140 degrees or more,” said K. Wayne Lee, URI professor of civil and environmental engineering and the leader of the joint project. “If we can harvest that heat, we can use it for our daily use, save on fossil fuels, and reduce global warming.”
The URI team has identified four potential approaches, from simple to complex, and they are pursuing research projects designed to make each of them a reality.
One of the simplest ideas is to wrap flexible photovoltaic cells around the top of Jersey barriers dividing highways to provide electricity to power streetlights and illuminate road signs. The photovoltaic cells could also be embedded in the roadway between the Jersey barrier and the adjacent rumble strip.
“This is a project that could be implemented today because the technology already exists,” said Lee. “Since the new generation of solar cells are so flexible, they can be installed so that regardless of the angle of the sun, it will be shining on the cells and generating electricity. A pilot program is progressing for the lamps outside Bliss Hall on campus.”
Another practical approach to harvesting solar energy from pavement is to embed water filled pipes beneath the asphalt and allow the sun to warm the water. The heated water could then be piped beneath bridge decks to melt accumulated ice on the surface and reduce the need for road salt. The water could also be piped to nearby buildings to satisfy heating or hot water needs, similar to geothermal heat pumps. It could even be converted to steam to turn a turbine in a small, traditional power plant.