Scientists Experimenting with Self-Healing Asphalt

Doug Enright 

It’s still popular today, but asphalt has been used for centuries. Asphalt, also known as bitumen, is a naturally occurring substance, it just gets doctored up and enhanced before it ends up on your parking lots or highways.

It seems strange that there are advances in asphalt every day, but just because a building material is ancient, doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. We’ve seen these types of improvements with enhanced binders, substrate, and now we could even have asphalt that fixes itself.

Scientists from the University of Delft recently told media outlets that they are currently working on developing self-repairing asphalt for use on highways, driveways, parking lots, and more. The new formulation of asphalt would use a combination of material technology to “heal” itself through induction heating and other methods.

Small cracks and divots in asphalt can quickly turn to large fissures and damaging potholes, but self-healing asphalt would fill in any gaps or divots before the asphalt has a chance to become further damaged. The research and materials could save utility companies and government operations possibly millions if not billions of dollars by avoiding having to send out a team for repairs and maintenance altogether.

Self-healing asphalt seems like something out of science fiction but what if I told you this new type of asphalt could also be made to charge electrical vehicles? While conducting their research, scientists at the University of Delft found an added benefit to the new formulation - the reinforcement steel fibers and natural bacteria could be utilized to charge the vehicle. So far it’s only while a vehicle is stopped and parked on top of the specialized asphalt, but it is an amazing stride in technology nonetheless.

So when will see self-healing asphalt on highways? Unfortunately, not anytime soon. The research team faces many challenges to make the concept a reality, including wireless charging systems for vehicles, how to trigger enough heat to kick-start the repair, and of course funding. We likely won’t see self-healing or charging asphalt on our roads anytime soon, but the advances on the horizon are setting us up for an incredible self-healing and car-charging superhighway.

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