Old tires become material for new and improved roads

April 22, 2014 |

Americans generate nearly 300 million scrap tires every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Historically, these worn tires often end up in landfills or, when illegally dumped, become breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes and rodents. They also pose a potential fire hazard.

In recent years, however, interest has been growing in finding new, beneficial and environmentally friendly uses for discarded tires.

Magdy Abdelrahman, for example, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at North Dakota State University, is working on ways to turn old tires into new and improved roads.

The National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded scientist is experimenting with “crumb” rubber–ground up tires of different sized particles–and other components to improve the rubberized road materials that a number of states already are using to enhance aging asphalt.

“It’s very durable,” he says. “We mix it with different materials and in different percentages, and in different conditions, to find the best ways to add rubber to asphalt.”

Asphalt rubber is the largest single market for ground rubber, consuming an estimated 220 million pounds, or approximately 12 million tires, according to the EPA. California and Arizona use the most asphalt rubber in highway construction, followed by Florida, the EPA says. Other states that are using asphalt rubber, or are studying its potential, include Texas, Nebraska, South Carolina, New York and New Mexico, according to the agency.

Ground tire rubber, when blended with asphalt, produces longer lasting road surfaces, and can lower road noise and the need for road maintenance.

Moreover, “this project will have a broad impact because solid waste is problematic throughout the world,” Abelrahman says. “Asphalt applications have the potential to contribute to the solution of the growing solid waste problem provided that engineering and environmental concerns are addressed. Asphalt binders represent an area that can improve pavement performance.”

Abdelrahman’s research involves studying interactions of crumb rubber with specific additives to evaluate and characterize the physical and chemical properties of the compounds. He also is trying to determine whether certain conditions, such as bad weather, will cause chemical releases from the recycled materials–from polymers, for example–and the potential impact on soil and groundwater.


“We want to assess the environmental impact of adding components to the mixing of crumb rubber and asphalt, for example, is it going to leach out in the rain?” he says. “Traditional, that is, normal, asphalt-rubber materials will not cause harm to the soil or the ground water. But some additives may.

“We already know that the technology [rubberized roads] is proven to work, but we want to make it work much, much better,” he adds. “We are trying to find the scientific and engineering aspects to make it better and, at the same time, be sure it is environmentally friendly.”

Abdelrahman is conducting his work with an NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award, which he received in 2009. The award supports junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organization. NSF is funding his work with about $400,000 over five years.

The grant’s educational component is strongly tied to the research, through developing a graduate/senior course on recycled material applications with significant scientific components, and through faculty-professional focus meetings to exchange experiences in the area of recycled materials.

He also plans to develop activities to recruit, train, and mentor students in the undergraduate and graduate programs, with the goal of preparing them for careers in recycled materials.

“We want to get the undergraduates involved in research activities and show them the technology we have developed,” he says.

Furthermore, community outreach activities “will raise the awareness of K-12 students to the environmental issues facing the local as well as the global community regarding solid waste management,” he says. “We will hold classes, seminars, even with kids in elementary school and show them: let’s recycle some material.

“It is really important for them to understand that if we keep using new materials, that our grandchildren won’t have anything left,” he adds. “We’re trying to get them to think about what will be available to the next generation in the way of resources if we cannot, or do not, use recycled materials. The goal is to educate high school, middle school and elementary school children, and show them that this is what needs to be done.”

12 Responses to Old tires become material for new and improved roads

  1. u13119402 May 8, 2014 at 7:40 am #

    The fact that there is so much work, time, money and effort going into projects in order to clean up and better the planet is a great thing. Pollution is a major problem in the world of today and there is not much happening to prevent it from getting worse. Creating a material from pollution to fix roads is a definite step in the right direction. South Africa as a country should invest in such a project, as you know the South African roads are not all pot hole free. It would not only clear up our old tires which are destroying parts of our environment but better our roads, making them safer to drive on. The project can improve our country; a small thing can make a big difference.

  2. Patricio Francisco (u14263272) May 4, 2014 at 5:50 am #

    This development seems very promising. The fact that old tires can be used to improve roads in terms of durability as well as reduce the frequency of maintenance seems very relevant in terms of South Africa and the current state of our roads. Some of our roads are in dire need of maintenance and have a numerous amount of potholes and government can’t seem to keep up. An improved and longer lasting road surface seems like the perfect solution to South Africa’s deteriorating problem. I think the Department of Research and Development should look into investing in this type of project and take notice of how it an improve the country in countless ways. Not only will it improve the quality of our roads and benefit all using it, it also encourages recycling which is an area that is not yet as advanced as countries in Europe. Furthermore, it would reduce unemployment and stimulate development through improved infrastructure. I sincerely hope that the roads are cleared of any harmful environmental impact so that South Africa can look at implementing the idea.

  3. u14090024 May 4, 2014 at 4:38 am #

    Wow! It’s amazing how someone can give birth to such an idea. There is definitely hope for the future. Using the very tires that are used on the road everyday to make new roads? It’s a nice eco friendly approach.

  4. u14037132 May 4, 2014 at 1:14 am #

    What a fantastic article! It is really inspiring and brings across a sense of hope for the future.
    I was pleased to read that it seems the idea of recycling is becoming more prominent in society as people are realising its advantageous possibilities. I also particularity enjoyed how researchers are now considering all the effects the use of recycled materials (in this case, tyres) could have on society as well as the environment. This article listed benefits such as longer lasting road surfaces, reduced road noise and less road maintenance as well as an overall reduction in solid waste. However, I was particularly impressed at the testing being done in certain weather conditions to assess whether it will cause potentially destructive chemical releases from the recycled materials into soil and groundwater. The inclusion of undergraduates in this project also demonstrates a desire to educate future generations and indicates a sense of tenderness for our planet as well as a shifting attitude towards a desire for preservation. This article, as mentioned in previous comments, also brings forth the possibility for other opportunities with regards to recycling such as shoes, furniture and stationary.
    Well done guys! Keep up the good work! With this attitude it seems our environment will soon be on the road to recovery!

  5. Mahanyele(14084504) April 30, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

    Andrea Peters i like your ideas because they are quite logical and sound possible in every sense.But how can we make your ideas reach the relevant structures so that they can be implemented and not end up as just being brilliant spoken ideas.

  6. Andrea Peters (14010586) April 29, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

    I was so pleased to stumble across this article, because it has been an interest of mine for a while now. I was walking around a shopping mall and found that recycled tyres can be used as a floor covering. I carried out some research on the issue and was stunned by the pictures I saw of the quantity of tyres which accumulate in landfills. There are numerous products that can be made out of recycled tyres. These include furniture, pots for plants, bags and even shoes. Tyres are, as mentioned in the article, very robust and I believe a great deal could be done with them. Instead of just piling them up in landfills they could be put to numerous uses. I find it great that Abdelrahman is involving undergraduates and children and teaching them to think of the generations to come, by showing them that one can reuse and recycle old products, such as tires. I find the idea of building roads with recycled tyres brilliant, as it reduces road maintenance and noise. Roads are continually being built, so why not start now by recycling and reusing materials before all of our resources are depleted!

  7. Mahanyele(14084504) April 28, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

    Hey guys, how can we influence those younger than us as well as older ones to develop an interest in this kind of project?, research to be specific. After gaining little knowledge about pollution in high school i became concerned about my environment and ever since i have always been thinking about plastic bags used for carrying purchased products, that they should no longer be manufactured instead must be replaced with paper bags because of the amount of land and water pollution they contribute to . What do you think guys?

  8. Mahanyele (14084504) April 27, 2014 at 8:16 am #

    I like the idea of the Green environment which is aimed at saving energy, recycling and preserving natural resources for future generation. However before we can applaud this great project, research has to be done to evaluate the impacts that will be associated with it so that relevant systems be put in place to assist resolve any problems that may arise. The usage of old tires to make road will not only help reduce illegal dumping of worn tires but it will also create employment and people’s lives will be changed. Finally i like the idea that undergraduates are to be engage in this project which will channel and shape them into tomorrow’s researchers that could come up with new ideas of this kind which will help save the environment.

  9. Mahanyele April 27, 2014 at 8:09 am #

    I like the idea of the Green environment which is aimed at saving energy, recycling and preserving natural resources for future generation. However before we can applaud this great project, research has to be done to evaluate the impacts that will be associated with it so that relevant systems be put in place to assist resolve any problems that may arise. The usage of old tires to make road will not only help reduce illegal dumping of worn tires but it will also create employment and people’s lives will be changed. Finally i like the idea that undergraduates are to be engage in this project which will channel and shape them into tomorrow’s researchers that could come up with new ideas of this kind which will help save the environment.

  10. Martin(u12134423) April 26, 2014 at 11:20 am #

    I like the fact that it’s all about recycling the old tires.i think recycling is the best thing to keep the environment clean and at the same time we benefit a lot..And it is important that the additives are resistant to leaching by the rain water and hot conditions..Rubber-made roads can also be beneficial to road users because it is quite obvious that the tires will now take long to get finished because they will be now rolling on “rubber itself” which is way friendlier than ordinary road..

  11. Lee-Anne u14024846 April 23, 2014 at 5:37 am #

    In our modern society having any wasteful expenditure is extremely consequential, especially if such wastage is hazardous and dangerous to the environment. Worldwide efforts are underway to try and reduce material wastage and to reuse and recycle old materials and objects. This new discovery will have a large impact on these efforts as there are billions of road users worldwide, majority of which simply discard their tires with no use thereof afterwards. Being able to recycle these tires into materials useful in road construction and maintenance is extremely beneficial as it would eliminate the spread of diseases carried by mosquitoes and rodents, would reduce costs relating to road maintenance and construction and would be ‘healthier’ for the environment (e.g. the burning of tires releases extremely hazardous gases). It is, however, imperative that the current studies on chemical release continue to take place as the release of poisonous and hazardous chemicals will have a negative affect on the environment and the people in the environment. The fact that the the National Science Foundation is aiming to involve the youth in this project is commendable as it proves that studies of this nature are effectively being made sustainable with a long-term approach in saving and protecting the Earth’s non-renewable resources. I truly hope these studies reach the desired results as any and every contribution to protecting and conserving the environment is essential!

  12. Alexa Wichmann (u14055521) April 23, 2014 at 12:31 am #

    I believe that this is a really exciting development! As mentioned in the article there are many advantages and benefits to using old tires for material for new and improved roads. This concept could have many advantages in South Africa as well. There are old tires or parts of tires on almost every road and these can be dangerous if they can not be avoided by vehicles travelling on these roads. If these old tires where used in the construction of material for new roads, the risk of accidents due to these old tires would be reduced and the roads would also look better. Jobs could also be created in the form of finding old tires and in the manufacturing of the material. This would reduce the amount of people unemployed in South Africa. I hope this concept is successfully developed as it seems to have many advantages and very few disadvantages.

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