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Self-repairing roads could also charge your electric car

The days of endless roadwork and range anxiety might be over.
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Potholes are bad enough for the jarring rides, car damage and safety hazards they create, but it's also problematic to fix them. You're looking at lane and road closures that can last for days, assuming the city can even spare the resources. However, Dutch researchers might have a solution that not only helps the road fix itself, but promises to solve range anxiety for electric car drivers. Delft University's Erik Schlangen tells The Verge that there are plans to test self-repairing asphalt whose conductive steel fibers and bacteria would both fix small cracks in the pavement and send electricity to EVs above. The trial will charge your vehicles when you're stopped at intersections, giving you a little bit of extra range in those moments you're waiting for the light to turn green.

There are numerous challenges involved in making it all work. The healing requires an induction machine that generates enough heat in both the asphalt and the fibers to trigger the repair process. And of course, you'd need to both send electricity through the steel and outfit cars with wireless charging systems. Schlangen estimates that this road would cost about 25 percent more than usual even if you discount the additional equipment.

However, the payoff for both city infrastructure and drivers could be well worth the steep initial cost. The constant decay of asphalt makes it expensive and time-consuming to maintain, in some cases discouraging cities from starting work in the first place. If you've driven often enough, you've no doubt seen roads that never seem to get proper care -- Schlangen believes the new approach would double the lifespan of a road and dramatically reduce maintenance costs, which could improve road quality even on neglected side streets. And if there were enough EV chargers at traffic lights, they could reduce the need for dedicated charging stations.

It's not certain when tests would start, although there have been Dutch experiments with self-fixing asphalt dating back to 2010. The greatest challenge may simply be convincing everyone to participate. Municipal governments might balk at having to redo their roads, and car companies may be loathe to including expensive new charging hardware. This is more a vision of what driving could be like years from now, once all the pieces have fallen into place.

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