Recycled Roadways That Charge EVs Are Closer Than You Think – Government Technology

It’s not just the transportation modes that have to modernize and innovate if the world is to meet the challenges of climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The building materials the infrastructure is constructed from will need to change as well.

“Infrastructure is the key to achieving the energy transition,” said Franz-Josef Ulm, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), speaking on a Jan. 10 panel at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board.

Ulm has been involved with the development of technology that sends electricity through roadways, which is especially applicable when thinking about the future of recharging electric vehicles. The process doesn’t involve wiring the roadway like an electric blanket, but mixing a carbon material directly into the concrete.

“Concrete cannot store electricity unless you add something to it. And what you have to add to it is actually charcoal, or, to be more precise, carbon black,” said Ulm.

Mixing carbon with cement and water creates a composite capable of conducting electricity, he explained, adding the technology can also help to keep pavement ice free.

“Imagine if you could store energy into each pavement structure,” Ulm offered. “And then what you can then do is you can store energy in the system.”

Inductive charging is already being explored in real-world applications in Detroit where the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) — in coordination with several other partners — has begun a five-year project to develop and test a one-mile stretch of in-road, wireless EV charging.

Turning roadways into charging strips is not the only way to improve the sustainability of transportation infrastructure. They can also be constructed of more recycled materials.

Nebraska started off with 10 percent recycled asphalt in pavement less than 10 years ago, said Mostafa Jamshidi, deputy director at the Nebraska Department of Roads. Today the state uses 50 percent recycled asphalt in its pavement.

“We’re ready to go to work. You guys bring the material to us. But do understand what we do, and we will work with all of you to make it happen,” he told his fellow panelists.

“DOT is really open to innovation, but it has to be scalable, it has to be practical, and it has to be safe. And it can’t be something that’s not really thought through about what the DOT needs,” said Jamshidi.

Building better roadways, that last longer, with newer technologies are part of the innovations the nation’s massive infrastructure building project aims to accomplish, said Pete Buttigieg, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The DOT wants to be “steering innovation toward public good; and the public good is very much at stake here,” Buttigieg told meeting attendees. This can mean making streets safer as well as protecting against the harmful effects of climate change.

“Everything that can make our infrastructure more effective, more efficient, more resilient and longer lasting than ever before deserves a great deal of attention,” he added. “With the right kind of investment, from the public, the private and the academic sectors, I really believe we can rebuild, not just our infrastructure, but redefine how it’s built.”

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.