Rubber Roads: The Future

Engineers believe rubber roads may be the future for transport – thanks to their excellent durability and low traffic noise. The ongoing search for better road materials has led to a surge in the use of rubber modified bitumen.

Speciality chemicals business, Evonik, says the race is on to make roads more durable, not only for environmental reasons, but also because the costs of traditional raw materials such as asphalt and asphalt modification compounds have increased.

In order to make road construction cost-effective, engineers are looking into alternatives that will make roads last longer, without increasing construction costs. The new materials will also benefit the environment and people’s health by creating a quieter surface.


© offcaania / Adobe Stock


Rubber roads history

Although rubber roads may sound like a 21st-century concept, the first known rubber road was constructed more than 70 years ago in the United States. Trialled on 7th September 1948, a one-mile section of Exchange Street in Akron, Ohio, was paved with a rubber-asphalt compound.

This was no surprise since Akron was known as the “rubber capital of the world” in the post-war years. It was the home of Goodyear, BF Goodrich, Firestone and General Tyre, so the city’s fortunes were linked to the success of the rubber industry.

As long ago as the 1840s, scientists had experimented by adding natural rubber to pavements to create a crack-resistant surface that repelled water. It was said that Goodyear CEO Paul Litchfield had the idea of creating rubber roads after seeing a similar pilot scheme on a visit to the Netherlands.

He donated the rubber for the first US roads scheme because he was so keen to pioneer the concept. The road in Akron is generally considered to be the first real-world test for the new road surface. A sign at the end of Exchange Street read: “Here ends the first rubber street in America.”

Asphalt mixtures containing rubber have since been used for road building in the United States for decades. Wide-scale use of the material began in the city of Phoenix, Arizona, in the 1960s and was then taken up in Florida, California and Texas.


Noise reduction

The benefits of rubberised roads are plentiful. Studies have proved that rubber increases the roads’ durability. Considerably quieter, it creates less of a noise nuisance for nearby residents.

Reducing noise could be more beneficial than most people might realise. A study by researchers at the University of Dusseldorf in Germany suggests living near a noisy road can be bad for our health. It could increase the likelihood of high blood pressure by 22%.

Around 41,000 people living in Sweden, Norway, Germany, Denmark and Spain were studied, including people living near busy main roads and others living in quieter areas. The results were published in the European Heart Journal

There are other well-researched health issues caused by continued exposure to excess noise including tinnitus, hearing impairment, ischemic heart disease and sleep disturbance, not to mention the general annoyance that ongoing loud noises can cause.

Excessive noise can cause irritation and dissatisfaction, as well as making people feel like their privacy is being invaded and that there’s no peace, even in their own home.

With increasing numbers of people owning a car, it is important that everything possible is done to cut down on the possible detrimental health effects of large volumes of traffic. Within the European Union alone, vehicle ownership has more than doubled in the past four decades.


Recycling benefits

A study by Germany’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Heidelberg reveals that every tonne of recycled rubber powder will save some 2.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide from being generated during the rubber incineration, which would otherwise have been necessary. This significantly reduces our carbon footprint.

According to experts at Evonik, studies of rubber roads have shown a “significant improvement” in durability in the long term. Company chiefs say the demand for rubber road surfaces is growing, particularly in Europe. The company has created a pioneering processing aid, Vestenamer, to turn scrap and recycled tyres into a modern construction material for roads.

The material also reduces cracks, potholes and ruts in the road, extending its life. There is plenty of rubber to spare to convert into road surfaces. Every year, more than 19 million tonnes of scrap tyres are generated across the world. Increasing amounts are now being processed into road-building materials.

As experienced acoustic consultants, Sound Planning specialises in the design, supply and installation of a variety of noise control products. Please contact us for details of how our bespoke solutions can assist you with any noise-related issues.


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