Concrete solution to climate change

June 15, 2001

While world leaders discuss global warming during United States President George Bush's European visit, scientists at Newcastle University are helping deal with its immediate consequences, writes Steve Farrar.

The university's civil engineering team has been developing a wear-resistant concrete to prevent the once snow-covered roads of wintertime Iceland being torn up by tyres with metal studs.

Motorists using chains and studs to keep their grip in icy conditions frequently find themselves in direct contact with the road surface because of milder weather.

The multimillion-pound repair bill for the resulting wear has prompted the Icelandic highways authorities to approach Newcastle University for help.

John Knapton, professor of structural engineering, said that a material made from blocks of concrete and compacted volcanic rocks was standing up in trials particularly well.

The different road surfaces have been tested in Newcastle using a remotely controlled 14-tonne truck that is repeatedly run back and forth over a 9m strip of the sample road surface.

Professor Knapton's team is also working to mitigate the impact of global warming in the United Kingdom by designing road structures with better drainage to help prevent flooding and the ensuing potholes. These could hold rain water in stone-filled reservoirs beneath the surface until it is able to drain into the ground beneath.

"It is all because of global warming," Professor Knapton said. "It is not just an esoteric, scientific problem - it comes down to the pragmatic."

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