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Nanomaterials Could Stop Asphalt Cracks

Friday, May 6, 2016

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Most of the paved roads we travel are surfaced with asphalt, and it’s not uncommon to see their surface cracking—but some Swiss scientists are hoping their new technology will make asphalt cracking the exception instead of the rule.

Researchers at Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, say they’ve developed a way to use nanomaterials to create bitumen that heals on demand when exposed to magnetism. The creation could mean a way to keep asphalt pavement from cracking, with only minimal maintenance work.

Asphalt with nanoparticles

Etienne incorporated iron oxide nanoparticles into bitumen, so that they would heat up when exposed to a magnetic field.

Inspired by Medicine

The inspiration, according to Empa, came from materials used in the fight against cancer.

There was already research afoot to try to add a component to bitumen that would heat the substance to the 50-100 degrees Celsius (122-212 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s the range that must be reached for bitumen to soften and heal the tiny fractures that eventually lead to larger cracks. (“If you can see the cracks with the naked eye, it‘s already too late,” lead researcher Etienne Jeoffroy says.)

Nothing had quite the effect researchers were looking for, until Jeoffroy took a tip from medicine: iron oxide nanoparticles are used in cancer treatment to try to heat tumors and essentially destroy them. After the nanoparticles are injected into a tumor, researchers explain, they’re exposed to a magnetic field and they heat up.

Jeoffroy, a Ph.D. student at Empa's Road Engineering/Sealing Components lab, applied the method to asphalt: He incorporated iron oxide nanoparticles into bitumen, so that they would heat up when exposed to a magnetic field. It doesn’t take long to heat the mixture to the point where the bitumen softens, the researchers explain, so surface maintenance would simply require periodically rolling over the road with a vehicle equipped with a magnetic field.

Making It Affordable

According to Empa, Jeoffroy is currently working on a way to replace the iron oxide with a more affordable material, to make this method more cost-efficient to those building roads and other surfaces; the iron oxide nanomaterial’s price makes it impractical.

Asphalt surfaces account for 93 percent of all paved roads in the U.S. and 90 percent of Europe’s paved roads, according to industry numbers.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Asphalt; Asphaltic/bituminous; Coating Materials; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Latin America; Nanotechnology; North America

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (5/12/2016, 12:30 PM)

Remelting the surface is going to require a lot of energy, and you're going to have to set up a Halbach array of electromagnets to minimize the spillover of your magnetic field (don't want to expose the truck to that much magnetic field!) I am having difficulty seeing how this will be cost competitive with crack sealer application.

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