Smooth Pavements Save Fuel
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April 11, 2011
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Study at Auburn University Aims to Determine Impact
Of Pavement Characteristics on Vehicle Fuel Consumption

Lanham, MD – The National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) has announced that Auburn University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, together with the National Center for Asphalt Technology (NCAT), is conducting a study looking at pavement factors that affect the fuel efficiency of vehicles. Results from the study could be an important step in enabling engineers and contractors to design and construct more fuel-efficient asphalt pavements.

Dr. Richard Willis, Assistant Research Professor at NCAT, commented, “We are reviewing numerous studies from around the world. One of the issues we are examining is to determine what pavement characteristics affect rolling resistance. Most studies indicate that smoothness, or conversely, roughness of the pavement is the dominant factor that affects rolling resistance.” The study will also recommend an experimental plan to better quantify the effects of the key pavement factors on rolling resistance and vehicle fuel economy. Results from the study could be an important step in enabling engineers and contractors to design and construct more fuel-efficient asphalt pavements.

Dr. Howard Marks, NAPA’s Director of Environmental and Regulatory Affairs, said, “Although there has always been a question of whether pavement stiffness plays a role in vehicle fuel use, the researchers are now finding that the type of pavement – rigid concrete vs. flexible asphalt – has no significant bearing on fuel economy for vehicles traveling over our nation’s highways and therefore cannot be used as a basis for public policy. What is known, however, is that smoother pavements are more fuel-efficient – and asphalt pavements are far smoother than concrete pavements over their lifetimes.”

Dr. Marks also referenced a similar literature review currently being conducted by the Concrete Sustainability Hub sponsored by the National Ready-Mixed Concrete Association and the Portland Cement Association. The Concrete Sustainability Hub is located at MIT. “Given that MIT is examining similar data, we expect that results of both research organizations should be quite consistent in finding that the type of pavement (concrete or asphalt) has no measurable impact on fuel efficiency for vehicles using the highways.

“For more than 25 years, the asphalt industry has been supporting research that has resulted in pavements that are longer-lasting, smoother, safer, quieter, and more durable,” commented Dr. Marks. “We have learned that the impact of pavement smoothness on vehicle fuel economy is so striking that a high premium should be placed on constructing and maintaining smooth pavements.”

Dr. Marks pointed to the fact that many highway agencies have different smoothness standards for asphalt and concrete. “We think that the evidence regarding pavement smoothness and fuel efficiency is so compelling that all agencies should adopt identical smoothness standards for all types of pavement, both at the time of construction and when determining the timing of rehabilitation. This will result in fuel savings that will benefit the nation far into the future.”

About NAPA:
The National Asphalt Pavement Association (U.S.) is the only trade association that exclusively represents the interests of the asphalt pavement material producer/ contractor on the national level with Congress, government agencies, and other national trade and business organizations. NAPA supports an active research program designed to improve the quality of asphalt pavements and paving techniques used in the construction of roads, streets, highways, parking lots, airports, and environmental and recreational facilities. The association provides technical, educational, and marketing materials and information to its members; supplies product information to users and specifiers of paving materials; and conducts training courses. The association, which counts more than 1,100 companies as its members, was founded in 1955.

About NCAT:
NCAT is a world-renowned asphalt pavement research center founded at Auburn University, Alabama, in 1986 with an endowment from the NAPA Research and Education Foundation. NCAT has grown into an institution with a 40,000-square-foot lab/teaching facility and a 1.7-mile oval pavement test track. NCAT’s funding includes a combination of FHWA research grants, individual state DOT-sponsored projects, pooled research funds coming from state DOTs, and National Cooperative Highway Research Program grants. NCAT is governed by a Board of Directors whose members include Federal Highway Administration officials, state DOT officials, contractors, representatives of companies that support the asphalt industry, and academics.

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