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Transportation Technology

Plastic Roads Sound Like a Crazy Idea, Maybe Aren't 183

schwit1 writes with news that the Dutch city of Rotterdam is looking at partnering with a company called VolkerWessels to test a prototype plastic road for safety and durability. "They envision pulling waste plastic out of the oceans, and then processing it into prefabricated sections of road with integrated utility channels and drainage. The composition and structure of the plastic makes it more durable than traditional asphalt, and VolkerWessels estimates that their plastic roads should last about three times as long as traditional roads." The roads are manufactured at a factory, and then hauled in a mostly finished state to where they'll end up. This could dramatically reduce the time during which drivers are inconvenienced by road construction efforts.
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Plastic Roads Sound Like a Crazy Idea, Maybe Aren't

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  • Crazy? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by inglorion_on_the_net ( 1965514 ) on Saturday July 18, 2015 @10:56AM (#50135249) Homepage

    I've read the assertion that plastic roads sound like a crazy idea elsewhere, too. I don't think this ideas is crazy at all. Why would it be? We currently pave roads with asphalt which we get from crude oil. It makes sense to me that if we process the crude (or some other oil or source of hydrocarbons; say, recycled plastic) we can make something that works similarly well or even better.

    • Re:Crazy? (Score:4, Informative)

      by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Saturday July 18, 2015 @11:14AM (#50135345)

      Normally...
      Plastic is slippery when wet
      Plastic is brittle when cold
      Plastic melts in heat
      Plastic is flammable

      Plastic is a more uniformed structure while asphalt is more jumbled. This jumbled makes it more complex and backups its own downsides.

      • Re:Crazy? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by sjames ( 1099 ) on Saturday July 18, 2015 @11:23AM (#50135373) Homepage Journal

        That's a pretty good description of asphalt, composed of tar and aggregate.

      • All of those things are true of asphalt as well. Asphalt is just bitumen (flammable, brittle in cold, melts in sunlight), and sand/gravel(slippery when wet). There really isn't anything stopping them from putting gravel in a plastic matrix and ending up with something not much different than asphalt. Except stronger and less brittle so that you can transport it in preformed sections.
      • Re:Crazy? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by inglorion_on_the_net ( 1965514 ) on Saturday July 18, 2015 @11:44AM (#50135461) Homepage

        Sure, but after over 100 years of designing plastics with a wide variety of properties and applications, I don't see why we couldn't make plastics that can be (part of) road surfaces, too. If I understand correctly, the performance in wet conditions still has to be tested, but the temperature tolerance is already wider than that of asphalt. Combating the slippery when wet problem has been done before, too (e.g. the anti-slip coating on bath tubs or fiberglass yachts), although I am not aware of any efforts specifically to support cars and tires.

      • Re:Crazy? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Saturday July 18, 2015 @12:17PM (#50135619)

        But even if it doesn't work out for pavement, we could always use the plastic to make small modular bricks with snap-together lugs that we could quickly assemble into gas stations, convenience stores and rest areas. Why, if you think about it we could make whole theme parks from this stuff.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        Plastic only becomes slippery because of its smooth texture. Simply get rid of that and it provides adequate grip. It's simply that smooth is cheap and usually desirable for aesthetic reasons.

        Some types of plastic are more durable than tarmac, even at low speeds. Some can be extremely heat resistant, e.g. cooking utensils.

        Flammability is worse for tarmac too, compared to plastics designed for fire safety.

        I'm sure they have thought of all these things. To assume otherwise would be foolish.

      • There was a thing here in LA where a wildfire burned up to a major freeway then jumped the freeway, setting on fire a couple cars stuck in traffic. Imagine if the road itself caught on fire?

      • Plastic is slippery when wet

        The slippery of a substance is based on it's surface finish. Plastic is no more or less slippery than any other substance, it all depends on how it's finished. Much like the stupid solar roadway idea plastic and glass can both be made to be quite rough.

        Plastic is brittle when cold

        Current asphalt roads have various levels of polymers added to suit various environmental conditions. I can tell you now, unless you formulate your road specifically for cold weather (in which case it likely melts in warm weather), asphalt is equally brittle.

      • It pains me a little to see so many geeks apparently failing to notice the high durability forms of plastic used in products all around them. Consider that plastic is more popular than metal for semiautomatic pistol lowers, and it's not just because it's cheaper--it's extremely durable and not slippery at all. And how on earth can you assume that asphalt isn't flammable, brittle, and melty?

        Plastic is a more uniformed structure while asphalt is more jumbled. This jumbled makes it more complex and backups its own downsides.

        Then mix an aggregate into the plastic. We already do this on a smaller scale with glass and carbon fibers, and the re

    • but will they be able to make the roads do loops like my hotwheels race track?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 18, 2015 @11:05AM (#50135295)

    How will these plastic road segments hold up to the kinds of expansion and contraction roads undergo during especially hot or cold days?

    Will they be have to be melted together to prevent cracks between segments for weatherproofing against rain, snow and ice? (Water expands when frozen, remember)

    And how well will they stack up against some idiot driving along on a rim with no tire?

    Will they be fireproof? One flaming car wreck and you've got a wall of fire that goes on for miles, spewing toxic smoke.

    • These questions remain largely unanswered. It is mostly just an idea, I wouldn't even call it a concept just yet. There is more information in dutch here: http://www.kws.nl/nl/innovatie... [www.kws.nl]

      They claim it is weatherproof and can handle temperatures from -40 to +80 degrees Celcius, but I cannot find any science to back this up. They haven't worked out how to link the segments yet. No word about damage repair, but they do mention they want to use it for bicycle roads first. On the subject of fire they say they a

  • by barfy ( 256323 ) on Saturday July 18, 2015 @11:05AM (#50135297)

    Anyone see what just happened in California? Can't imagine the practical road damage and amazing environmental damage of tons of plastic on fire.

  • by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Saturday July 18, 2015 @11:07AM (#50135303) Journal
    Unless you're the company selling the idea in the first place. What it sounds like to me is expensive and pointless. Isn't asphalt reusable? Scoop it up, reheat it, pave with it again? By all means have someone start cleaning up the oceans and recycling all the plastic waste out there, but not this way.
  • Possible problems (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bjdevil66 ( 583941 ) on Saturday July 18, 2015 @11:08AM (#50135311)

    Unless these road pieces are chemically altered in some way, traction on plastic roads would be awful. And shards of the roads that break off under wear and tear are going to be blown out into nature, poisoning the environments they land in over time.

    I'm all for cleaning out the oceans, but this seems like moving toxic, nature-insoluble trash from one environment to another. Permanently ridding ourselves of the plastic is the right path.

    • Re:Possible problems (Score:4, Informative)

      by sinij ( 911942 ) on Saturday July 18, 2015 @11:27AM (#50135387)
      Another point - plastic degrades with UV exposure. It becomes hard and brittle.
      • http://www.kws.nl/nl/innovatie... [www.kws.nl] (dutch)

        They will experiment on how to add traction and say they might add sand or gravel if they can't solve this problem with just plastic. On the topic of degradation they claim that plastic is being used outdoors a lot already without problems. I am not sure if the circumstances are comparable though.

    • Unless these road pieces are chemically altered in some way, traction on plastic roads would be awful

      Couldn't they have come up with some ridging or some pattern of grooves?

      I'm all for cleaning out the oceans

      I bet some stupid manipulative marketing asshole/bitch just made that up.

      • "Couldn't they have come up with some ridging or some pattern of grooves?"

        I know! A slot down the center of each lane that would engage a fin projecting from the bottom of each car. This would allow high-speed banking on curves and even, just for fun, the occasional inside loop.

      • Couldn't they have come up with some ridging or some pattern of grooves?

        Rubberized tracks seem to have really nice traction. It might be difficult to come up with a combination that has both traction and durability.

    • I'm all for cleaning out the oceans, but this seems like moving toxic, nature-insoluble trash from one environment to another. Permanently ridding ourselves of the plastic is the right path.

      That seems like a waste when we are constantly producing new plastic all the time. Why not recycle the plastic so that we don't have to use more oil making more plastic?

      • Banning the production of new plastic (with "critical national defense" as the limited exception, of course). That would probably mean that superfluous usage of plastic for worthless crap like Happy Meal toys would stop altogether. Other more "important" items like shopping bags, trash bags, baby bottles, Solo party cups, etc. would go up in cost, reflecting the true life cycle cost of a product.

        That will never happen, however, until a crisis that affects the everyday Joes happens. "What do you mean there

  • by CurryCamel ( 2265886 ) on Saturday July 18, 2015 @11:10AM (#50135327) Journal

    Sounds like a great idea. Lets hope the details will add up.

    TFA:

    The things that aren't addressed by the available information are safety and cost.

    Nor is winter & studded tyres mentioned. Studded tyres eat through asphalt & the stones in it quite quickly. How about this plastic?
    Perhaps this is only for warm climates. Rotterdam seems to not average sub-zero temperatures even in February, so I guess studded tyres are not used there? Any duch person to confirm?

  • Imagine a vehicle fire. A plastic situation road creates fuel right there! If a round is fired at a suspect on a chase, and this chase ends up with an accident, I can't see how a plastic road can help matters. Does it?

  • by jphamlore ( 1996436 ) <jphamlore@yahoo.com> on Saturday July 18, 2015 @11:13AM (#50135341)
    The idea of pulling plastic out of the oceans is senseless to anyone [kcet.org] who gives the idea a minute of thought. Do these people have any idea how big the ocean is and how small the particles of plastic can be?
    • by pahles ( 701275 )
      So we just let it sit in the ocean? Of course it is better to keep it out of the ocean in the first place. That doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't clean up the current mess.
    • The harm most people are concerned about is mammals and birds. Pieces of plastic that are 'the size of a grain of rice' - don't pose any risk to mammals and birds. They also don't pose a risk to the majority of marine life.

      The author claims the devices will 'break really quick' - devices engineered to be submerged in the ocean constantly have different design constraints than devices that are for capturing wind energy. There is no reason to believe that a properly designed structure will be prone to fail

  • Morrison Bridge (Score:5, Informative)

    by kschendel ( 644489 ) on Saturday July 18, 2015 @11:33AM (#50135413) Homepage

    Even if we assume that they have magically found a way to get and recycle the plastic garbage in a few bazillion cubic meters of ocean, they'll still have to do better with the end result than experiments so far. The Morrison Bridge in Portland OR has a skid resistant polymer deck that is already coming apart after just a couple years. I wouldn't write this idea off a priori but there major problems to overcome.

  • I am trying to think of a type of plastic that can handle millions of cars and tires, yet doesn't wear down - or - if it does wear down, maintains traction and grip.

    As a motorcyclist, the idea of this road makes no sense, and is a bit scary. But if they can figure out the traction thing, let's give it a try.

    • I am trying to think of a type of plastic that can handle millions of cars and tires, yet doesn't wear down - or - if it does wear down, maintains traction and grip.

      As a motorcyclist, the idea of this road makes no sense, and is a bit scary. But if they can figure out the traction thing, let's give it a try.

      The sun will probably destroy it before the tires do. Sunlight breaks down plastics.

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Saturday July 18, 2015 @11:57AM (#50135497)

    Shamelessly lifted from the comments on the iEEE article, is a link to India using plastic as binder in asphalt [scind.org].

    This seems like a much more practical step towards using lots of plastic in roads, and the article hints that it may help prevent potholes which would mean the road would be usable longer. They've already been testing it on real roads for a year.

    I just can't see how the equivalent of potholes in a pure plastic road are anything but disaster - a ton of water gathering in the conduits, and any fragmentation would lead to very sharp shards on the road, or large areas just failing wholesale.

  • I think this is a great idea, but we really need to make to lay the foundation for the next generation of computer controlled vehicles.

    Do I know what that is? Nope, but I think it would be reasonable for computer systems on my car to be informed immediately if there is a problem ahead, whether it be damage to road detected by sensors in the plastic road itself or simply congestion to inform my vehicle to take an alternate route.

    Perhap road sensors could detect the provide feedback to rooba-plows as well an

  • by CanadianMacFan ( 1900244 ) on Saturday July 18, 2015 @12:04PM (#50135539)

    The space for cables is a good idea but I wouldn't put pipes in there, at least in colder climates as they would freeze.

    I think this would be pretty good for parking lots and sidewalks to start with since you don't seem to need to lay down a thick gravel subsurface.

  • by CanadianMacFan ( 1900244 ) on Saturday July 18, 2015 @12:05PM (#50135545)

    But I thought all of our roads were going to be glass electricity generating ones!

  • That way the just go collect the plastic and make more of themselves until the ocean is clean.

    Of course we may run into the Slylandro problem.
    http://wiki.uqm.stack.nl/Probe [stack.nl]

  • This is where it's at: http://www.solarroadways.com/i... [solarroadways.com]

  • by ModernGeek ( 601932 ) on Saturday July 18, 2015 @12:19PM (#50135635)

    A better headline would be, "Are plastic roads the future?"

  • Paving with bricks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Saturday July 18, 2015 @12:24PM (#50135653)
    One time when I visited Rotterdam (wonderful people and a great city, btw) I saw some street construction near the hotel I stayed in. The street was paved with bricks. Instead of using a jackhammer to get through the street's surface, the workers just dug up the bricks, did their work, smoothed out the surface and re-installed the bricks. When they were done, it looked like they were never there. So it seems more like a matter of replacing those bricks with plastic ones, as bricks are already being used for road surfaces.
    • by hackertourist ( 2202674 ) on Saturday July 18, 2015 @02:35PM (#50136297)

      In .nl, bricks are only used in older side streets that see little traffic (i.e. they're there because they've been there for a long time and it hasn't been necessary to resurface the road). New construction favors tarmac. Tarmac is cheaper to put down as it's all done with giant machines, while bricklaying takes a lot of manual labor. Tarmac is also safer because you have more grip, and it's a lot more comfortable to drive on.

      This plastic road would be easier to put down than bricks because it comes in large sections you can crane into place.

  • The way roads are done in the U.S.:

    1.) Award contract to the lowest bidder.

    2.) Lowest bidder was the lowest bidder because they plan on using substandard materials.

    3.) Resulting road falls apart in 4-5 years (or less).

    4.) Go to 1.

    There is no desire or advantage to build roads that don't need to be rebuilt very few years. The Free Market(TM) and your (and my) tax dollars at work. Everybody wins (road contractors, car dealers, repair shops, etc.) but the people who have to drive on the crappy roads.

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Saturday July 18, 2015 @12:59PM (#50135835) Journal

    This is ridiculous.
    First, the expansion/contraction of plastics is generally MUCH much higher than concrete/pavement.
    Second, the "prefab road sections" are absurd; nobody builds roads like this already (of any material) because they would be ruinously expensive (not because of the raw material costs), nothing has come close to the level of durability needed to handle 50-ton trucks repeatedly for decades, and extremely hard to deploy.
    Third, the overwhelming majority of plastic in the ocean is 0.1mm or smaller (http://theconversation.com/in-the-ocean-the-most-harmful-plastic-is-too-small-to-see-35336) - the cost/magnitude of scale to sieve this from the oceans is mind-boggling.

    Seriously, Dutch, I love you - but that's a mind-blowingly dumb idea.

    • Not that this specific technique won't need extensive testing, but chances are that on occasion you've already driven on a road using plastics as a base material. Geofoam is regularly used in road projects throughout the world.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
      http://www.komonews.com/news/l... [komonews.com]

    • by MrMr ( 219533 )
      Just a stupid startup company, what do they know anyway. They have only been doing major on- and off-shore infrastructure projects since 1854
      http://en.volkerwessels.com/en... [volkerwessels.com]
    • Second, the "prefab road sections" are absurd; nobody builds roads like this already (of any material) because they would be ruinously expensive (not because of the raw material costs), nothing has come close to the level of durability needed to handle 50-ton trucks repeatedly for decades, and extremely hard to deploy.

      Conventional (asphalt or concrete) roads aren't specified to last fifty years - so why would you require plastic roads to do so?

      Not to mention that prefab sections of rail track (handling 100

  • Seriously, to give a big of traction, cover it up with rubber.
  • If plastics which would otherwise go into a landfill or are already contaminating the environment can be used, if it has similar/better performance characteristics to traditional road materials and if its is a similar/cheaper in price then of course. But there are a lot of ifs in there.

  • This will be great!

    My studded snow tires will get much better grip on plastic and ice, than rock and ice in the winter. And they'll wear less!

  • Then the sections of road will float away.

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