Heat Islands May Not Be So Bad After All

Emily Badger reports on pioneering research that is looking into ways to utilize the heat trapping properties of asphalt, rather than fighting it.

2 minute read

May 25, 2012, 12:00 PM PDT

By Jonathan Nettler @nettsj


The heat attracting properties of asphalt are common knowledge to anyone who's attempted to dash from the beach to their car on a hot summer day with their flip-flops in hand, and not on their feet. And, of course, the heat trapping effects of urban agglomerations of asphalt covered surfaces, known as the urban heat island effect, are well know to many planners.

As Badger notes, while a lot of work has gone into figuring out how to combat the effect, Rajib Mallick, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, and other researchers are working on ways to harness the heat contained in asphalt and put it to productive uses.

"Asphalt, for instance, could heat water coursing through a series of pipes embedded in the road. And that process would both cool street surfaces and send their heat somewhere useful...This heat could also be converted into different forms of energy. Other liquids that turn into vapor could be used to drive turbines generating electricity."

"Mallick and his colleagues have not only done the theoretical work to envision these possibilities, they've begun testing them as well with support from both the state of Massachusetts and the National Science Foundation," writes Badger.

What about just paving with something less heat intensive than asphalt?

"Economics drives everything," Mallick says. "And if you think about it, asphalt is very cheap. You can't find a cheaper material to build pavement. Asphalt is a byproduct of petroleum, so as long as there will be petroleum, there will be asphalt."

Thursday, May 24, 2012 in The Atlantic Cities

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