In the February 2010 issue of Popular Science magazine, the question was asked--how to update America's four million miles of crumbling roadways. UMD Professor Xun Yu (Department of Mechanical/Industrial Engineering) has part of the answer.
Dr Yu, along with Dr. Eil Kwon (professor, UMD Department of Civil Engineering) and Dr. Baoguo Han (research associate, UMD Department of Mechanical/Industrial Engineering, is hard at work with a new style of concrete. By mixing carbon nanotubes, roads in the future could: (1) withstand more weight with less cracking, (2) sense how many vehicles are on the road in real time, and (3) even know how fast traffic is flowing.
"Current traffic detection technologies need sensors to be installed either in the road or over the road, which have issues with maintenance and have a relatively short service life," Professor Yu said. Yu and his team are working on integrating carbon annotates into concrete. In a way, the road would become the sensor and would clear up problems currently in the system.
The future of the project relies heavily on getting the right mix of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and concrete.
The CNTs are relatively new technology and their properties are still being studied. In this application, CNTs show changes in electric potential when a stress is applied. A stress, like a car passing over the concrete, would be sensed in a linear response. These stresses would change in magnitude depending on the size and speed of the vehicle.
"We are still in the stage of proving the concept and there are still many problems to be solved before it can be deployed in the actual roadway. For instance, the reliability and durability of the new sensors," Yu said. The research that Professor Yu and his team are working on would be useful in a very practical sense. It is also a huge step for nanotechnology.
"As for the carbon nanotube nanotechnology, this research would extend the applications of carbon nanotubes. It is a very interesting nano material with excellent properties," Yu said.
As the research and development work continues at UMD, Yu's work could be seen in U.S. roadways in the near future.