A big problem for motorists is driving on a road that’s filled with potholes. The number of damaged roads is estimated to be in the millions, and the government is falling behind on trying to repair them. The backlog goes back 14 years, with it costing £12 billion to fix. This may cause one in six roads to close if they aren’t repaired in the next five years.
To solve the issue of potholes, MacRebur, a British start-up, is looking into using recycled plastics to create stronger roads. Co-founder of the company, Gordon Reid, said the idea came from the CEO doing some charity work in India: “Two years ago, Toby McCartney, now CEO of MacRebur, was in India as part of his charity work, and found people would pick up litter and plastic from landfill sites and put it into potholes, light it, melt it and use it as a temporary repair.”
When he got back, McCartney worked with Reid and a chemist called Nick Burnett to see if plastics could be recycled to create more environmentally sustainable roads. They looked into why potholes were emerging and found that it was a problem with the asphalt. This lead them to using polymer-modified bitumen.
Polymer helps to form plastic and bitumen is the oily residue used for road surfacing. Combining them together gives asphalt greater flexibility and strength, making a road less likely to develop potholes. Many UK roads are strengthened with polymer-modified bitumen, but Reid has said the polymers come from oil companies who have a large control of the market:“Polymer-modified bitumen roads are some of the best roads in the world, but they cost a lot. And the trouble is that the oil companies only sell the bitumen mix in 20-tonne loads, meaning councils who only need two to three tonnes will be left with too much waste.”
To address this, MacRebur have proposed the idea of using recycled plastics as the source of the polymer rather than oil. The company trialled different ways to produce polymers from recycled plastic and came up with compound MR6 – small plastic-like polymer pellets that can be added directly to asphalt.
This is helpful for manufacturers because it eliminates the need for a 20-tonne load. Manufacturers can add as much or as little of the MR6 as they need. It’s also a cheaper alternative, as the recycled polymer-modified bitumen costs £10 less per tonne than the conventional mixture. When you consider that Cumbria Council alone uses 250,000 tonnes of asphalt per year, it means they’d save £2.5 million.
MacRebur’s product sounds like something that could be beneficial for UK roads in the future. Potholes are a problem that need to be addressed and MacRebur may have come up with a great solution.
What’s your opinion on potholes and how do you think the problem needs to be solved?