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  • Writer's pictureSafer Highways

Revolutionary highway trial underway in Essex

A new trial which could revolutionise the way public highways are resurfaced is underway in Essex.

Those behind the project hope the addition of a new strengthening compound to traditional surfacing material could increase the lifespan of roads by up to double greatly reducing future maintenance - and the associated traffic delays - as well as halving the carbon footprint associated with such work.

The trial is being undertaken by Ringway Jacobs and Essex County Council on a section in Chelmsford. Ringway Jacobs supplies highway services to Essex and has brought in the international expertise of its shareholding companies Eurovia UK, in particular, their specialist asset management consultancy Jean Lefebvre UK (JLUK), and partners, to undertake the trial.

Key to the innovation is a technology called Gipave, developed by the Italian company Iterchimica. The product is the result of a six-year research program called Ecopave in collaboration with Directa Plus – producer and supplier of Graphene Plus, G. Eco and the University of Milan – Bicocca.

It consists in adding an advanced product to a traditional surfacing material, in this case, for the first time in UK, added to a hot rolled asphalt (HRA) and applied to a good quality substrate or newly applied binder course. JLUK has been fully testing and developing the materials used in the trial in the UK, which have been produced locally, through one of Eurovia’s East London asphalt manufacturing facilities.

Gipave contains graphene – which is 200 times stronger than steel yet extremely flexible – making the asphalt is far less susceptible both to hardening and cracking in cold temperatures and softening in warm temperatures. It also increases the elasticity and strength to reduce the wear, particularly under high loading.

Gipave further reduces environmental impacts and carbon emissions (up to 70%) as it contains a specific type of selected hard plastic, which is usually considered non-reusable, avoiding less sustainable disposal methods (landfills, etc.).

In the Essex trial, conventional HRA surfacing has been laid as a control section, adjacent to the graphene enhanced area so the performance of each can be monitored under identical traffic and climatic conditions. JLUK has been investigating the use of nanotechnologies in resurfacing; testing Gipave in laboratory conditions in the UK in close consultation with Iterchimica.

Working alongside Eurovia UK has been Jean Lefebvre (UK) Limited who have been investigating the use of nanotechnologies in resurfacing while Gipave itself has been developed by Italian company Iterchimica.

Whilst recognising that warm and cold mix surfacing products offer immediate carbon reduction benefits to clients, it is recognised that some highway networks and Highway Authorities still prefer ‘hot’ products for their ‘whole life’ benefits. Laboratory tests have shown that, compared to standard HRA, the Gipave enhanced material showed an increase in stiffness of over 200%, and reflected in a 655% improvement in deformation resistance. At the same time, the material also showed an improved resistance to cracking of 109% compared to conventional material.

Iterchimica Gipave Product Manager, Lorenzo Sangalli, added “The UK is a country at the forefront in finding solutions to reduce CO2 emissions (Warm Mix Asphalts are increasingly used) and in the development of new technologies; the isolation of graphene is an example. Iterchimica, whose mission to build sustainable asphalt pavements and reduce environmental impacts has remained the same for over 50 years, has found fertile ground in the UK for its green technology Gipave”.

Eurovia Managing Director, Paul Goosey, added “We are continuously striving to improve the sustainability of our highway products and services. Working with JULK and Iterchimica, to bring Gipave to the UK, we can offer clients a surfacing solution, which, in the right location and network, will reduce environmental ‘whole life’ impact and improve resilience of the network.”

Ringway Jacobs managing director Phil Horton said: “As a business we believe innovation is key to offering the highest quality and best value services to our clients.

“Our company structure enables us to call on the expertise of industry leaders across the world and we are delighted to be bringing that know-how to Essex in a project that could save time and money while at the same time reducing the carbon footprint due to the extended life of the pavement.”

Cllr Lee Scott, Essex County Council Cabinet Member for Highways Maintenance and Sustainable Transport said: “This is potentially a game changer in road and footway surfacing as increasing the expected life of the surface could drastically reduce maintenance costs and half the carbon footprint typically associated with such surfacing.

“We look forward to seeing what the results of trial and what potential benefits the graphene solution might bring to the county – and indeed the rest of the UK.”

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