Stiffer pavements could reduce vehicle fuel consumption by 3%: study

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A recently released MIT study shows that using stiffer pavements on US roads could reduce vehicle fuel consumption by as much as 3%. Officials say the resulting savings could add up to 273 million barrels of crude oil per year ($15.6 billion worth based on today’s oil prices) and an annual decrease in CO2 emissions of 46.5 million metric tonnes.

The study is the first to use mathematical modelling rather than roadway experiments to look at the effect of pavement deflection on vehicle fuel consumption across the entire US road network, officials said in a release.

The study found that deflection under the tires is similar to that of beach sand underfoot: With each step, the foot tamps down the sand from heel to toe, requiring the pedestrian to expend more energy than when walking on a hard surface. Stiffer pavements would decrease deflection and reduce that a car’s “footprint.”

“This work is literally where the rubber meets the road,” says Professor Franz-Josef Ulm, the George Macomber Professor in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “We’ve got to find ways to improve the environmental footprint of our roadway infrastructure.”

The researchers note that despite the initial expense for stiffer pavement, the cost would quickly pay for itself not just in fuel efficiency and decreased CO2 emissions, but also in reduced maintenance costs.

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