Researchers believe they can shave millions of pounds off pothole repair bills with an infrared heating solution.
Devised by researchers at Brunel University London, the technology could save local authorities £3.5bn in 2019 by making repairs cheaper and longer-lasting.
“Potholes develop when surface water is pressurised by travelling vehicles, opening cracks within the asphalt,” said civil engineering researcher Juliana Byzyka. “Wet weather, combined with cycles of freezing and thawing, dramatically accelerates pothole development.”
Temporary and longer-lasting repairs often fail, creating dangerous driving conditions that put road users at risk and dent the public purse.
According to the Local Government Association, road repair bills in England and Wales could reach £14bn in two years, dwarfing councils’ £4.4bn highway budgets.
“Occasionally, road maintenance teams use commercially operated heaters to repair potholes, but many instead deliver hot material to the site for filling and compaction of the pothole,” said Byzyka. “We found that this leads to a higher risk of pothole failure due to inadequate heating at the interface between the pavement and fill material. A lack of temperature control deep within the mass also causes failures.”
Backed by engineering firm, Epicuro, researchers developed a portable machine that uses infrared heating to heat the pothole surface and deep underneath before repair. A 3D thermal model is used to model and control the repair process.
“The Controlled Pothole Repair System is designed to be easily transported to repair sites and operates within a single lane of the road, so extensive road closures are avoided,” said Byzyka.
Dr Mujib Rahman, Senior Lecturer in Civil Engineering, said: “We spend ever increasing amounts on temporary and permanent repairs, often with inadequate results. This shows that through better understanding of repair fill material heating, we can deliver repairs that last a lot longer than their current life expectancy of two to four years. This can create better-quality road surfaces which would make for fewer accidents and smaller maintenance budgets.”