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Could scrap rubber help Michigan build better roads?

Oct 21, 2014

Researchers are going to find out how well rubberized asphalt will resist potholes.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A group of researchers at Michigan Technological University is conducting tests to find out if traditional asphalt mixed with rubber from scrap tires could make better roads in Michigan.

The research, led by civil and environmental engineering department chair David Hand, has been granted $1.2 million from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Professor Zhanping You has been studying the technology of rubberized asphalt for eight years. He says rubber-added asphalt can make roads more durable and make life easier for drivers.

“When we use rubber in asphalt, it'll help us reduce cracking. So when you drive on the road, it's going to be quieter. Also, the rutting resistance is good. That's ideal for pavements,” says You.

To mix rubberized asphalt, You says some percentage of crumb rubber from waste tires will be added to traditional asphalt. The process will generate some initial cost, but it’s expected to be cost-effective for taxpayers in the long run.

“Research reported that crumb rubberized asphalt can reduce the overall life cycle cost by about 15%,” says You.

Assistant professor Zeyad Ahmed is also on the research team. He says another focus of the research is to test the emissions of the mixed elements.

“Used tires are big problems for everybody. Our main goal is to use the material which is a burden to our society and the environment as a sustainable material for infrastructure … but we want to make sure that we do not violate the standard of emissions by adding crumb rubber,” says Ahmed.

The research team is currently conducting lab experiments and will then move on to the field testing phase at a couple of sites in both Upper Peninsula and downstate.

-- Michelle Haun, Michigan Radio Newsroom