'Lego' Roads saves time, saves the planet

Dutch minds have taken inspiration from Lego and designed “road bricks”, which could be the future of road construction…well, maybe just ...

Dutch minds have taken inspiration from Lego and designed “road bricks”, which could be the future of road construction…well, maybe just in the Netherlands in the near future. Imagine constructing a road from large pre-fabricated Lego-like bricks that are able to snap into place at the site. Besides making road-building a whole lot easier and faster, the “road bricks” are made from plastic that has been dredged out of the ocean; so, these roads can be built in weeks, rather than months, and will spur the mopping up of “plastic soup” that plaque our oceans and seas. Two birds, one stone, sounds awesome.

Inside is a hollow space to accommodate pipes, electrical cables, phone lines and other systems that are usually laid out under the road.
This grand idea is still in the initial stage, but we like what we hear so far. The company behind it, VolkerWessels, and Rotterdam city could be working together to test out the prototype, which has been named PlasticRoad (not creative, exactly, but there’s no confusing what it is).

The Netherlands is big on recycling, with more than 50% of its waste being given a second life. VolkerWessels plans to grind the plastic waste into smaller pieces, which can then be melted easily and then molded into the bricks. According to the company, the typical road material, asphalt, contributes to 1.6m tons of CO2 emissions yearly.

This is not the first time that recycled plastic has been used in road construction. When polythene was banned in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India, in 2009, there were bloated stocks of the material. As a pilot project, the government added shredded plastic into asphalt to build three stretches of road. The plastic blend not only reduced the cost of material, because it replaced from 10 to 15% of the bitumen, it turned out to be more durable because of its higher binding strength.

Still, we wonder if a 100% plastic road is strong enough to withstand thousands of cars travelling over it as well as being exposed to the elements, all day all night. VolkerWessels’ claims regarding the structural integrity and durability of PlasticRoad is quite impressive – it can withstand extreme temperatures between –40 and 80 degree Celcius, can be installed over structurally weak terrain (like swamp or sandy areas), is resistant to corrosion, and can last three times as long as asphalt or tar roads. It has yet to be tested for endurance or for safety in wet conditions, but these will be take place in next phase of development.

If all goes as planned, there will be a complete PlasticRoad thoroughfare in three years' time. Modular roads, modular car surface...it makes us wonder, what next?

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