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Sustainable motorways – giving something back

Posted by Giles Kirkland on 8 March 2019 at 1:53 pm

Motorways and Sustainability

Sustainable Motorways could sound like an oxymoron in the broader sense due to material requirements and their effects on both natural and human environments, all as a result of developing their infrastructure and the subsequent running of vehicles on them. Having said that, if we look at the TBL (triple bottom line) principle which measures the projected progress towards sustainability in three areas i.e. environmental, economic and social, we might view it differently. Considering the social and economic benefits of motorways which include access, mobility and taking people and goods from A to B, motorways could be described as sustainable.

But sustainable motorways are also the next big thing when it comes to providing energy efficiency benefits as well.

Roadside wind turbines

Shell are currently working with a company called Capture Mobility, looking at the creation of roadside turbines to capture the wind generated by passing traffic. The wind turbine harvests this energy and turns it into electricity. At the same time, the turbines have solar panels on the top to increase the generation of power. Air filters are also contained within the turbines, absorbing the pollution from exhaust emissions.

This may be happening on a small scale at the moment, but this is a much-needed technology as far as the future is concerned. The ever-growing population is expected to hit 9 billion by 2040, according to research carried out by the International Energy Agency (IEA).  If the world has not doubled its supply of energy by the middle of this century, we can safely assume that this will affect the growth in population.The focus needs to be on finding clean power sources – enlarging the grid just won’t be enough.

Concealed energy exchangers

If we look at France, their traffic on the road contributes to 93% of transport-related CO2 emissions. A company named VINCI Autoroutes are working hard to deal with climate change and they are doing this by refurbishing the motorway infrastructure. Their aim is to change the behaviour of motorway users, making them far more responsible.

Their new product, Novatherm surfacing will act as a concealed energy exchanger. Thermal screens will be built into motorways, using geothermal energy to melt snow in the winter. Not only will this eradicate the use of salt (which is not environmentally friendly) but driving will be made much safer. In the summer, the same solar energy will power the surrounding infrastructure such as traffic and road lighting, signage and active studs for cycling paths, to guide cyclists at night.

Solar motorways

This brings us to solar motorways. The idea is that durable solar panels will replace tarmac.  They would then act as a screen, displaying things such as speed limits and lane closure warnings whilst soaking up solar energy.  This energy would then be used to power road signs, saving huge amounts of electricity.


Piezoelectric energy harvesting

Piezoelectric energy harvesting is also a big thing when it comes to improving energy efficiency. Here the road surface would be fitted with an inductive charging system. Using wireless charging via a structure installed below the road, an electromagnetic field would be produced. Used on a large enough scale, this would dramatically reduce vehicles’ carbon emissions. When applied to smart motorways, the piezoelectric energy would be collected from traffic on the road. The resultant harvested energy can then be sent back to the grid, used to power vehicles or used for road infrastructure purposes.

Self-healing concrete

Another superb way of making motorways sustainable is to make them self-repairing.  Requiring far less labour and money, they would certainly be far more environmentally friendly. Research is currently ongoing, looking at ‘self-healing concrete’. This is a blend of concrete that contains a very special form of bacteria that produces limestone when water seeps in, sealing cracks and crevices before they have a chance to enlarge. This is well worth noting as roadworks are not only a bone of contention for motorists, creating more and more congestion, but they are a big drain on resources. Money saved by making concrete self-repairing could be used to fund further research into new ideas for integrating this technology and more like it, into motorway construction.


One thing is for sure; the way forward is going to be one of ensuring that motorways give something back, with scientists focusing on creating a sustainable infrastructure and the improvement of energy efficiency.

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About the author: Giles Kirkland is an environmentally conscious car expert with passion for electric vehicles and clean technologies. Apart from commenting on the latest automotive innovations, he enjoys sharing his knowledge and giving sustainable driving tips. You can find his articles on Twitter and at Oponeo.

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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4 comments - read them below or add one


FlorahwilliamsComment left on: 5 January 2021 at 9:09 am

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rusebutixComment left on: 4 August 2020 at 11:20 am

the oxymoron motorway materials are giving something back to the country from their sustainability. The requirements of vehicle and materials that are ivory research review running on the motorway with nonstop  way for the country.

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MelBrandleComment left on: 3 May 2019 at 10:01 am

The problem is not really the motorway is it? It's the amount of vehicles that are on the motorway. I reckon that we need to do something about how we use transport and technology rather than worrying about the infrastructure. Perhaps I'm not too well versed about how we can change our infrastructure to be more efficient, but it seems like it would come at a great cost for very little effect if we focus on this area ahead of the actual problem.

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jennifertoddnerComment left on: 19 March 2019 at 9:31 am

Thatnks for your article!

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