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The Future of Rubber Roads

Using rubber to make road surfaces might seem like an innovative concept in the UK, but it has been widely adopted in many other countries for several decades. What makes rubber such a beneficial road material, and what's the future for rubber roads?

Rubber Tyres

© Tyler Panian / Adobe Stock

 

Origins

Rubber has been added to bitumen to make road surfaces since the 1960s. It was first used as a road material in Arizona in the USA, with other states such as California, Texas, Florida and South Carolina quickly catching on to the many benefits of this surface material.

Today, in the USA, around 20,000 miles of road are made from old rubber tyres. Other countries such as China, Germany, Spain and Brazil are also advocating rubber roads. So, why is this material proving increasingly popular over standard asphalt?

 

Rubber road benefits

There are several reasons why rubber is fast making a name for itself as a road surface material.

From an environmental point of view, old tyres can be given a new lease of life as rubber crumbs added to road asphalt. Globally, around 19 million tonnes of scrap tyres are generated annually. With the EU banning the disposal of tyres in landfill sites back in 2006, there's about 480,000 tonnes of shredded rubber going spare in Europe alone. By recycling a single tonne of rubber into rubber-modified bitumen, studies show that 2.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide is saved from not needing to incinerate the rubber.

Repeated long-term tests consistently show that rubber roads are also much quieter than traditional road surfaces, where traffic noise can be slashed by up to 25%. Experts reckon this is because rubber makes the bitumen thicker, enabling it to trap sound waves more efficiently. Since the rubber surface is also springier, this further enhances its ability to absorb sound. Road traffic noise can cause physical and mental health problems, and 2% of heart attacks occur because of loud traffic noise exposure. Reducing traffic noise by using rubber roads could, therefore, be good for our health.

Crucially, roads made from rubber last up to 20% longer than their standard counterparts, also reducing the incidences of potholes, cracking and ruts. With roads getting busier as vehicle ownership increases, and as 20% of UK roads are currently considered in poor condition, road surface durability is becoming an increasingly vital priority.

Less maintenance could also mean huge cost savings in the long run for local authorities, governments and related industries, especially if you also factor in that rubber roads are more cost-effective to make than standard alternatives.

Plus, from a road safety perspective, the carbon black in rubber retains the dark colour of the road surface, so markings don't fade quickly.

Studies have also shown that roads made from rubber mixtures offer improved water drainage properties, which could prove beneficial to roads prone to flooding.

 

The future

The benefits of rubber-modified bitumen can certainly not be ignored. Its use as a road material is likely to gain wider acceptance in the UK as time goes by. Indeed, one of Scotland's busiest roads has already been resurfaced using asphalt mixed with rubber tyre shreddings.

However, experts claim that in order for rubber roads to become more commonplace in the UK, the technology used to get the rubber into the asphalt needs to be further developed. Innovative companies have already developed rubber powders and pellets that can be added to asphalt, for example. Incentives offered by the government and tyre companies could also help fuel the growth of manufacturers and suppliers of rubber-modified compounds.

As well as road surfaces, recycled rubber tyres could be used to construct buildings, bridges and dams in the future.

As such a versatile material, rubber certainly enjoys many uses. If you require rubber products, such as extrusions, matting, mouldings or gaskets and seals, you can find exceptional quality products at Coruba.



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