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Tomorrow Today

Studio Guest Prof. Bernhard Steinauer

Our Studio Guest: Prof. Bernhard Steinauer, Institute of Road and Traffic Engineering, Aachen

Watch video 03:20

DW-TV: Here in Berlin we're used to the road crews who swarm out after winter to fix the potholes and cracks. But today's studio guest says it doesn't have to be that way. Joining me is Professor Bernhard Steinauer. He's brought along a piece of road of his own. Professor Steinauer, this chunk of asphalt is the tarmac of the future. What's so special about it?

Bernhard Steinauer: You see here a new road philosophy. The base layer is asphalt, and the top layer - we call it a carpet is made of a totally new material, a plastic material. It is specially produced in a factory. You cannot make it on the roadside, you must make it in the factory. And in this layer are sensors. These sensors detect the traffic and all the things that are important for the drivers on the motorways. For example, if there is water or ice on the road. This provides information straight into the car. If someone is driving the wrong way on the motorway or if there is fog. I think it is a chance to increase security on our highways.

Additionally if this material is produced in a factory, there are other advantages. For example, these types of carpets could be used to produce electricity. Is this correct?

Yes, this is the next step. We have 200 - 300 million square meters of highways in Germany. With photovoltaic cells we can create energy from the sun and transform it into electricity. And we get a big 15 terawatt hours of energy or power and we could put this power directly into the cars. Then the car can go not just 100 kilometers along the motorway, but maybe 200 or 400 kilometers. It's a big advantage.

These are some great ideas. How long will it be before we see something like this in practice on our roads?

I would say in five years we will have developed the technology fully and in 10 years we will have it on the roads.

And, in terms of cost: will this be affordable?

It is very expensive. But, it is a bulk material. I think if you lay 100 million square meters of it then it will pay for itself.

(Interview: Heather Delisle)