What will tomorrow’s roads look like?

Today, driving in Spain is more comfortable and safer than it was decades ago. This has a lot to do with the increase in highway mileage and the improvement of both the design and the road surface, which today are able to better drain rain or resist heat.

The next step in its evolution will come from the hand of new technologies, which will allow us to access all the information on the roads in real time, reuse the asphalt we drive on or provide more sustainable energy to vehicles.

towards smart ways

One factor that will greatly contribute to improving roads is, without a doubt, the deployment of new technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence or big data, which in a short time – if they have not already done so – will be an active part of our travels. The name they are known by says it all: the smart ways.

In just a few years, the roads will be connected to our vehicles, receiving information in their navigation systems about any eventuality on the routes they plan to travel on. They will also have sensors installed in the pavement itself, which will report on the traffic situation and will be able to detect potential structural damage to roads and report it to road managers to speed up maintenance work.

Self-repairing sidewalks

Currently, more than 30 million vehicles circulate each year on more than 165,000 km of the national road network, which implies significant erosion of asphalt and forces administrations to allocate abundant resources for its maintenance.

Therefore, the priority for the coming years is to extend the useful life of asphalt and even construction Self healing floors, as with the solution jointly developed by Repsol and Acunea. The mixture with which they work makes the asphalt practically “heal” itself, thanks to the incorporation of regenerating agents, which are released when a small crack occurs. Another technological development is allowing pavements already damaged by constant vehicular traffic and bad weather to be reused to make new mixtures, which will help reduce the amount of asphalt ending up in landfills.

Another option being studied is to use a material 200 times stronger than steel, and at the same time lighter than aluminum: graphene. At the end of last year, the UK government announced that this component would be used as a test drive on part of the country’s A1 motorway. Thanks to its characteristics, the roads will allow a smoother and safer driving while extending their useful life.

Towards a more sustainable mobility

In just a few years, cars and trucks will be powered by various more sustainable energy sources, such as BiofuelsOr synthetic fuels, hydrogen or electricity. Each of these power solutions is complementary, and the use of one or the other will depend on the user’s mobility needs, for example, the distance to be covered.

Biofuels (those produced from raw materials of biological origin) and Synthetic fuel or electronic fuel (Those made with carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere and renewable hydrogen) “are a real and readily available solution to reduce emissions immediately, which is essential to decarbonize all transport sectors, especially those that need to travel long distances” explains Miguel Angel García Carreño, Manager of process development in Repsol Technology Lab. He adds, “Its chemical composition is very similar to that of conventional fuels, so it is fully compatible with existing combustion-engine vehicles, avoiding the need to develop new vehicle technologies and allowing the benefit of an extensive network of distribution and refueling infrastructures that already exist.”

Cars that are connected to receive road information, self-healing asphalt or high-speed charging points will be part of the road landscape in just a few years.

In the case of electric vehicles, it will be necessary in the coming years to deploy a wide network of recharging points, with capillary standards and in strategic locations, allowing drivers to recharge their batteries at times as similar as possible to conventional refueling. fuel, like that Repsol opened at the beginning of the year on the A-1 as it passed through Venturadain the Community of Madrid, where there are four charging points of 350 kW each, and where an electric car can recharge its battery in an estimated time of five to ten minutes.

Ultra-fast charging point for electric cars in Venturada (Madrid)

Ultra-fast charging point for electric cars in Venturada (Madrid)

Repsol

At the same time that the network of charging points is expanding, the sector is developing innovative solutions, such as the so-called electromagnetic induction technology. It’s about burying cables under the asphalt that generates strong electromagnetic fields. It will be received by a component of the vehicles that will convert it into electrical energy.

This technology has been tested in Europe for some time. An example of this is the Swedish proposal, eRoadArlanda, which has been working for a few years now to convert roads into electric vehicle power sources, specifically the two-kilometer distance between Arlanda Airport and Stockholm. Another project called Elisa, led by German company Siemens, allows a network of hybrid trucks to connect to a catenary line laid on a highway, in order to extract electrical energy and charge the batteries that drive them.

There’s no doubt about it: the journey into the future of roads began a long time ago. All of these projects confirm that the priority in the coming years will be to create roads that are more environmentally friendly and adapted to the needs of drivers and pedestrians. Which is that when designing it, we no longer think only of the car: environmental sustainability plays a major role. Target? Achieving a better quality of life for people.

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