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Bringing low-cost, long-lasting roads to India and Canada

Residents living in a rural village outside of Bengaluru, India can now get their produce to market year-round thanks to a Canadian innovation that could become the gold standard for future road construction. In 2015, Canadian and Indian collaborators came together to build Thondebavi’s first paved road, using a new super thin, low-carbon pavement that lasts longer and costs less than conventional roads made from concrete.

This “living laboratory” is spearheaded by the India-Canada Centre for Innovative Multidisciplinary Partnerships to Accelerate Community Transformation and Sustainability (IC-IMPACTS), in partnership with Stantec Inc. (Edmonton), Starmass Environment Technologies (Ottawa), the University of British Columbia and the University of Alberta, along with Indian collaborators ACC Limited, Fosroc Chemicals, Reliance Industries, Stewols India and the National Institute of Engineering.

“During the monsoon months the village became completely unwalkable, let alone driveable, making it very difficult for residents to get their produce to market and to bring goods into the community,” says Nemy Banthia, CEO and Scientific Director of IC-IMPACTS.

Completed in October 2015, the 650-metre road connects to an existing road that feeds into a highway network linking to other towns and cities. In addition to providing the village with a critical transportation link, the road will also supply researchers and engineers with data on the pavement’s performance over the next five years. The road is comprised of three different technologies in three different segments, with each using a different thickness and proportion of materials.

Common to each section are super thin pavement technologies that significantly reduce the amount of cement needed in the construction of the road. Cement production is one of the single biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, with each ton generating a matching ton of carbon emissions. To create a more sustainable alternative, about 60% of this new road is made of locally sourced fly ash, a by-product of the thermal power industry that is often disposed of in lagoons, landfills and abandoned quarries. Some reports indicate that only 20% of the fly ash is recycled or reused in India.

“This represents a major improvement over existing roads,” says Dr. Banthia. “It is about one third the thickness of a traditional road in India, has a smaller carbon footprint, costs less, is more sustainable and lasts longer.”

The new road is also reinforced with innovative fibres that increase its strength and durability. IC-IMPACTS worked with Reliance Industries of India, the world’s largest producer of polyester, to develop these fibers.

Roads in India can start deteriorating within two years due to poor materials, intense heat, poor drainage and heavy rains. Tests supported by IC-IMPACTS suggest this new design will last at least 15 years.

One section uses high-strength concrete materials, some of which were developed by researchers with Concrete Canada, an early Network of Centres of Excellence (1989-1998). The concrete is four times stronger than what is currently used throughout India.

Another section uses regular strength concrete reinforced with fibres to improve its performance. The third segment combines these two technologies with new fibres that have been developed at the University of British Columbia.

“The use of Canadian pavement technologies to support road improvement in (the State of) Karnataka is a great example of how Canada can support India’s visionary initiatives towards building smart cities and infrastructure,” says Stanley Gomes, Acting Consul General, Consulate General of Canada in Bengaluru.

This pavement project has already resulted in partnerships with two other states in India, which plan to build roads in 2016 with designs supplied by IC-IMPACTS. One road in the State of Haryana will be two kilometres long and a second in Madhya Pradesh will replace a five kilometre stretch of highway.

India is in the midst of a major road construction boom to meet its need for 2.4 million kilometres of rural roads. Dr. Banthia says this represents “a huge opportunity” for Canadian companies, including civil engineering firms such as Stantec, which designed the pavement for Thondebavi.

“The Stantec team has been privileged to be able work with the many excellent researchers and professionals that are part of the IC-IMPACTS team. Our partnership has provided opportunities to showcase Stantec’s specialized engineering capabilities and to gain contacts with Indian researchers, consulting firms and government agencies,” said Reed Ellis, Vice President, Bridges, Stantec, a 15,000-person engineering and design firm that began collaborating with IC-IMPACTS in 2013.

In addition to holding up under heavy rains and heat, tests show the technologies also perform well in cold climates where roads are under stress from extreme freezing and thawing, and frost heaving which can crack road surfaces. A new IC-IMPACTS project will construct high-tech pavement for a school on the Lubicon First Nations community north of Edmonton.

“These demonstration projects in India and Canada will provide the evidence governments need to invest in new road technologies that are more durable and sustainable than existing roads,” says Dr. Banthia. “It represents a great opportunity for Canada to turn innovative technologies into real-world applications that will make a significant difference in the lives of so many.”