It is estimated that the US needs to spend around 4.5 trillion dollars on infrastructure before 2025 in order to fix the worsening state of American roads. However, governments have been slow to react due to such high costs.
With that being said – what if we could reduce the price? Then hopefully millions of ordinary Americans wouldn’t be stuck with costly automobile repair bills associated with pot-holes, nor would they inherit ridiculous tax hikes. A zero sum game.
Engineers at the University College London may have come up with a solution.
“The material properties of 3D printed asphalt are tunable, and combined with the flexibility and efficiency of the printing platform, this technique offers a compelling new design approach to the maintenance of infrastructure,” the researchers stated in a paper entitled “3D Printing of Asphalt and its effect on Mechanical Properties.”
Their new portable 3D printer repurposed the frame and control system from a RepRap Mendel 90 3D printer while the rest of the parts come from aForm 2 SLA 3D printer. Their biggest obstacle was the inconsistent viscosity of asphalt. However, they managed to circumvent the problem by utilizing a high temperature acrylic based resin.
“The main difficulty encountered is that asphalt behaves as a non-Newtonian liquid when moving through the extruder. Thus, the rheology and pressure in relation to set temperature and other operational parameters showed highly non-linear behavior and made control of the extrusion process difficult. This was overcome through an innovative extruder design enabling 3D printing of asphalt at a variety of temperatures and process conditions.”
“as the asphalt pellets traveled through [the] extruder, we [found] the optimum processing variables by carrying out a systematic empirical investigation of the extrusion process.”
Researchers have proposed that we use this in conjunction with autonomous vehicles and even drone technology in order to optimize cost and efficiency.
The University of Leeds started a 4.2 million dollar project called “Self Repairing Cities” that will begin to use automated technology like this to repair transportation infrastructure. Perhaps the UK will serve as a good example to other nations around the world.
Furthermore could future 3D printers be used to create roads from scratch? Certainly a possibility worth considering, especially for developing nations.