A new way of building roads with recycled plastic is being developed by Dutch company KWS Infra. As a resident of Michigan, where the combination of hard northern winters and a legislature that refuses to do its job have led to a statewide condition with many roads in embarrassingly bad shape, this hits close to home. The plastic roads are claimed to offer a number of advantages that make this a potentially revolutionary technology.
The proposed system is going to use “100% recycled materials” according to the company. If plastic-based roads can serve to make a use for more plastic waste and keep it from entering waste streams, that could be a huge benefit all by itself. The premanufactured road sections are modular, and would be built in a factory and then shipped to the work site where they could be installed faster than conventionally-built roads can be completed. The plastic road modules are also better able to be installed over sand or poor soil (which is a frequent issue in the Netherlands). The modular units can also contain chases for electrical wireways or other infrastructure to be incorporated. As with other premanufactured systems and components, there can be better quality control of manufacturing as opposed to work done in the field. The modular road sections are also lighter in weight, meaning less impact on roads and less transportation energy to deliver materials.
The plastic road could be more durable and longer lasting than conventional paving, and is resistant to a wide range of temperatures (although it might not be suitable for use in far northerly regions). “Plastic Road is also virtually maintenance free. It is resistant to corrosion and weathering. So it can easily to temperatures from -40 to +80 degrees Celsius and it is much more resistant to chemical attack. We estimate that the life span of roads can be tripled.” (article translated via Google Translate) Having a material that won’t develop potholes could be a huge advantage if the plastic road is able to deliver that. Presumably the modular panels have some structural strength which gives them the ability to span over poor soils, and that might also help in resisting damage from frost heave. Having panels that can be more quickly replaced could also lead to less road blockage and delay during construction (and less idling vehicles is yet another environmental side benefit that could come from these roads).
Other interesting technologies, like solar roadways, might dovetail with the modular construction of plastic roads, enabling both systems to be adopted more readily by combining the benefits of both in a single system. The open chases of the plastic roads could also make it fairly easy for the solar panels to be prewired in the factory, and only need to make connections between modules in order to connect the system.
The list of potential features the plastic roads offer is impressive. The company is now looking for a partner and a location for a demonstration pilot program to test these roads and see how well they perform in real-world conditions.