Innovative materials help to drive greener and more durable roads

Highways engineers are testing a new substance that could help keep more roads pothole free for the first time in Britain on a road in Oxfordshire.

Earlier this week, a joint trial was started by Oxfordshire County Council and its contractors, Skanska, to lay and test a fully recyclable, graphene-enhanced asphalt on a busy main road in Curbridge, near Witney.

Graphene – a specially developed ingredient that is added to otherwise ordinary surfacing material – has the potential to extend the life of roads and guard against potholes and other problems.

Graphene is also used in a wide range of other items including batteries, paints, printing, packing and sports items.

The substance was known about for many decades, but pioneering work done in 2004 in the UK led to two physicists winning a Nobel Prize, the development and commercialisation of the substance and ultimately its first UK road trial in Oxfordshire.

The works, which were delivered by subcontractor Aggregate Industries, involved removing and replacing a 750m stretch of road.

One lane was resurfaced using conventional materials - effectively acting as the control measure - while the opposite ‘trial’ lane was resurfaced using the asphalt enhanced by the innovative additive developed by Italian company Iterchimica.

Engineers will monitor how the new surface performs and it will take up to two years to get a full picture of how well it compares to the conventional materials. If successful, the new material will significantly increase the durability of asphalt used in road maintenance.

Oxfordshire County Council is also working with Skanska to test other new techniques and materials also aimed at reducing potholes and carbon to introduce more durable, futureproof road surfaces across the county.

Jason Russell, Oxfordshire County Council’s Interim Director Community Operations, said: “Oxfordshire County Council is always keen to explore new products and processes to not only improve the network for our residents, visitors and businesses, but more importantly to make sure that we maximise the resources we have and deliver as many improvements as we can.

“Working with Skanska, we recognised the opportunity to be at the forefront of developing new materials which will enhance the roads in the UK.

“We have taken the approach that trials are an important factor in pushing the boundaries and without the forward thinking we adopt, we would be behind the development curve and not be offering our residents the best we could offer in terms of spending public funds wisely.”

Jim Daughton, Skanska’s Operations Director, commented: “Exploring these new materials is about taking a new approach to tackling two of the biggest issues facing the highways industry and UK drivers – reducing potholes and improving the quality of our infrastructure for the future while driving down carbon.

“We’re always looking for new ways to provide best value and our innovative approach enables us to deliver better and more effective projects for our customers and their communities, so we’re delighted to be the first to trial graphene asphalt in the UK.

“If successful, this innovative product could transform highways maintenance in the UK, extensively extending the life of key highways infrastructure affected by significant traffic loads, while reducing carbon, which is key as we work with our supply chain to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2045.”