UAntwerp engineers present innovative solution for sustainable asphalt

Date: 29 September 2017

Introduction: The University of Antwerp's Campus Groenenborger is home to a rather special section of cycle path. A pipe system in the asphalt means no more icy paths.

The new path incorporates some of the most cutting-edge pavement technology on earth: a pipe system in the asphalt which heats the road surface during the winter, meaning ice has no chance to form.

The University of Antwerp opened its high-tech Building Z at Campus Groenenborger in 2016, providing a new home for the Faculty of Applied Engineering. The faculty’s future industrial engineers use the building as a lab for all their experiments. Work is currently being done on the area around the building, including new paths for pedestrians and cyclists, and these too will be used to apply new technologies.

The new cycle path is part of the Road_IT project. “Most sectors are keen to use IT applications for real-time monitoring”, explain Karolien Couscheir and Geert Jacobs from the Road Engineering Research Section, part of the UAntwerp Energy and Materials in Infrastructure and Buildings (EMIB) research group.

“The data produced by those applications leads to more efficient production processes. But hardly anyone is doing this in the asphalt sector at the moment. This project aims to change that. The idea is to develop an integrated, coherent IT process management system for the entire Flemish asphalt sector, containing data on raw materials, processing conditions and road repairs.”

Heat for buildings

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the new cycle path is the asphalt ‘collector’ system. “Tubes are incorporated in the asphalt”, explains researcher Wim Van den berg. “Water flows through the tubes, collecting energy during the summer, and that can be used as a heat source in the winter to keep the asphalt above freezing point. The energy collected in the system is stored in the earth using a heat exchanger, and pumped out again when needed.”

“Besides the safety advantages of an ice-free road surface, the technique also means that ruts and cracks can be prevented from forming in the asphalt. And there’s another big advantage: only 20% of the heat the asphalt collects is needed to keep the cycle path ice-free. The other 80% can be used to heat nearby buildings.”

Safer cycle paths

Positives all round, conclude the Antwerp scientists. “We’re talking about a combination of saving energy, extending the life of road surfaces and improving traffic safety thanks to reduced damage and frost-free paths. Research has also shown that safer cycle paths lead directly to a reduction in the number of cars on the road.”

The asphalt sector is watching the project closely. Large numbers of contractors and council representatives were in attendance at a demo in Antwerp’s Faculty of Applied Engineering this week. Because other technologies, such as built-in sensors that record deformations in the road surface and a newly developed fibre-reinforced type of asphalt, are soon to be rolled out in larger-scale projects.