Ringway Jacobs and Eurovia Test Graphene in Chelmsford Road Resurfacing.
Known as the ‘miracle’ material, Graphene was only discovered in 2004 – by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their achievement. And it really is quite something. Made of a single layer of carbon atoms in a honeycomb pattern, it’s the thinnest thing ever to have been created. How thin? To give you some idea, think of the width of a human hair – and then divide that by a million. That’s very thin indeed.
It’s also the world’s most heat-conductive material, making it vital in microelectronics and in making thermal foils for devices such as mobile phones… But road surfacing? It is rather counter-intuitive to think of this impossibly thin sheet of atoms as the latest ingredient in tarmac, of all things… Actually, because in addition to its other superlatives, Graphene is the world’s strongest material, it can have an almost magical effect when added to others. Adding even a trace amount to plastics or metals, for instance, makes them far stronger – and lighter too – which is why Ringway Jacobs and Eurovia are trialling the substance as an additive to hot rolled asphalt (HRA) in their road resurfacing project for Essex County Council in Chelmsford.
New it may be to the UK – and certainly to Chelmsford – but the technology, developed in Italy and branded Gipave, is already in use elsewhere. It’s proven to increase the asphalt’s elasticity and hence reduce wear, especially in heavy conditions – and it also dramatically reduces cracking in the cold as well as melting in hot weather.
Mindful, however, that Gipave technology is untried in the UK, the project is proceeding on a strictly scientific trial basis that takes nothing for granted and alongside the Gipave surfacing is a control section using only conventional HRA so that both can be monitored for performance variance in identical traffic and weather conditions. That said, there is very little doubt that Gipave is the future of road resurfacing. Indeed Cllr Lee Scott, Essex County Council Cabinet Member for Highways Maintenance and Sustainable Transport, describes it as ‘potentially a game changer in road and footway surfacing as increasing the expected life of the surface could drastically reduce maintenance costs and halve the carbon footprint typically associated with such surfacing’.