The world is changing, and at Shell we look at these changes quite closely as they are important to our businesses globally including the Bitumen business. The world’s population is growing at a rapid pace with urbanisation as a mega-trend. In addition to that, individual empowerment with digitalised and user-centered services and applications is increasing at a tremendous pace, changing the way we live and do business. Climate change is a big issue as well and whilst there are some people who still don’t believe in it, at Shell we do. It is a harsh reality, but if we don’t control global warming below 2°C, the impact for mankind might be catastrophic.
The way people connect is also changing; autonomous cars will soon invade our streets. Indeed, 70% of our cars may be autonomous in the very near future. But there are some who believe that we can’t mix autonomous driving and human driving, we have to make a complete shift, not just a little one. For this we will need to make vehicles capable of interacting between themselves and with other parts of the environment in which they operate, and that creates problems for our current pavements.
Address the needs of tomorrow’s massive urbanisation
Congestion is going to be a major problem for our cities. We expect nine billion people to be roaming the planet by 2030, with 70% of them living in cities. Consequently, we will have 31 mega cities by 2030, which is only 12 years away. Traffic is going to at least double if not triple, with pollution growing rapidly if we don’t act. At Shell, we believe that we need a global carbon charge as this will help boost innovation and give us the best chance of controlling climate change to below 2°C.
Traffic noise is also one of the biggest issues in cities and, as these are growing to become mega cities, this issue will become even greater. Safety is also key, as more traffic can generate more safety issues for pedestrians and cyclists.
Are we going to see more fatalities? The answer is yes, unless we do something. What does this mean in our view? We need a connected ecosystem, where cars, roads, traffic signage are all integrated so they can work seamlessly and safely.
More cars will be equipped with batteries so that means that we need to equip fuel stations with the right mix of technologies: be it hybrid, fast battery charging or hydrogen. However, in terms of innovation, can we actually make a road which can generate electricity by itself and charge vehicles as you drive? Maybe in the future, instead of going to fuel station you’ll just drive along the section of the road which will recharge your vehicle, and you’ll pay a pence or a cent per mile. Who knows?
Shared access to vehicles is extremely important. Why? Because the way people think about vehicles is changing. Today, it’s about moving people and goods from A to B. Tomorrow it will be about social connectivity. It will be about people sitting in their cars, on their mobile phones, talking to each other. The action of moving will no longer be the only reason for being in a car. So the question could be: what else can we make roads do in addition to moving people and goods from A to B?
Roads must get better in what they do. Autonomous vehicles will be able to drive much closer to each other than we do now. So the roads’ recovery time between each passing car will decrease, meaning the damage which is done by each of these vehicles will be much higher. In addition to that, people will want more and more load per vehicle, that will also do more damage to our roads. Consequently, our roads have to get better at what they do: they need to last longer; they have to be designed for that purpose. Today’s roads designs are looking backwards (empirical design), but they should be looking forward (analytical design) with predictive damage mechanics according to the type of traffic. If possible, they even should be self-repairing. If you look at the global road network, the entire world doesn’t have enough money to repair the roads it has today and this network is expanding. In the past we used to design our roads for twenty years, but the average maintenance period for our roads is eighty years. So, there is already a real disconnect between the money available and the road network that we have and are developing.
Roads need also to be safer. They should have clear binders which may glow in the dark to enhance visibility but also to reduce ambient street lighting so we can use less energy. We would need more consistent skid resistance as well, because if you have an autonomous vehicle - unless it can really sense if a road is very slippery or less slippery - then consistent skid resistance will be a must so we can make sure autonomous cars can all stop when they need to.
We will also need to provide cleaner solutions, whether it is to reduce odor or to neutralize it. We will have to use more recycled material and finally we will need to find less noisy solutions.
Smart and multi-skilled roads
Roads will have to get smarter. They must do other things than just allow for people to move. They will be required to fight air pollution by capturing polluting particles and generate energy by capturing solar, kinetic or piezoelectric energy. Why not use movement on the road to generate electricity and pump it out to the grid so we can reduce the amounts of carbon needed to generate electricity? In the summer it could be a good way to generate money from the road network a well as reducing the heat island effect. In the winter electricity could be converted to heat which will then defrost the road so we don’t have to apply winter maintenance.
Roads will also need to perform at high standards in extreme climate conditions, during flash flooding periods for example. We need pavements to be able to take that water away and to survive much longer in these conditions. Even the 2°C change that is being discussed can make a huge difference in the pavement lifecycle. So looking forward, we will need to take that into account when designing roads.
There is a lot of innovation out there but we are still very conservative in the road construction industry. If we take the example of polymer modified bitumen, Shell developed them fifty years ago. Yet, they are still not widespread across the entire world. Innovation needs to be accepted far more quickly. The industry needs more engagement. The industry needs society and public stakeholders to fully indorse innovation in roads and this needs to be initiated and come to fruition in real projects and not just talked to. We all need collaboration because no company or government can do this on their own. All stakeholders have to work together to address the issues of tomorrow’s roads and do much more than we have done in the past.
If we really want to make the roads of the future, what do we need? We need a new framework. The traditional way of contracting for our roads is not suitable for the future. It needs collaborative engagement and innovative mindsets so we can finally change our roads and deliver everything required by our society in the future.