Researchers from the University of Surrey have developed a new thermo-active road solution that could help prevent potholes caused by freezing and thawing in the winter. A new project that will test this new approach has been awarded a £800,000 research fellowship from the Royal Academy of Engineering. The outcomes could improve how major roads across the United Kingdom are maintained and upgraded, even as climate change increases the challenge of keeping them fit for purpose.
As part of this five-year research project, the Surrey team will work with advanced materials engineering company Versarien to develop a new graphene-enhanced microcapsule to dig into the soil beneath the surface when roads are resurfaced to improve heat conduction and storage.
Surrey’s Dr. Benyi Cao, the project lead, will work with National Highways to trial the use of geothermal energy to keep road surfaces at a controlled temperature. They will introduce ground source heat pumps to cool roads in summer and warm them in winter.
The project will also include the creation of a laboratory scale model road segment with a heat pump in the University of Surrey’s Advanced Geotechnical Laboratory to evaluate the thermal performance and resilience of roads under controlled climatic and traffic loads; The Completion of advanced numerical modelling, which incorporates meteorological data and findings from the lab model experiments to help engineers understand how best to build thermo-active roads; and the introduction of full-scale field trials on UK roads and conduct a full life cycle assessment to understand the environmental as well as financial costs of thermo-active roads.