"Potholes are a global phenomenon. Bad news for most of us. Good news for Mujib. He has a company investing in his pothole-heating machine, inside which is patented technology. The work going on in this lab could be highly profitable."
This is how BBC Radio 4's In Business talks about the research led by Dr Mujib Rahman at Brunel University London. A former highway engineer, Mujib left that job to try to work out whether there was a better way of doing it. So in 2011 he started his career as the 'Pothole Doctor', exploring the causes of potholes and how to improve the repair process.
In the documentary, 'Potholes: the road to the future' – originally broadcast on 10 January, and available from BBC Sounds – journalist Ruth Alexander digs deep into the cost of potholes for business and society, and explores many ways of solving the growing problem.
Listen to Potholes: the road to the future; Dr Mujib Rahman's interview starts at 04:48
One of these is a portable machine developed by Mujib and his group of researchers. It uses infrared heating to ensure the pothole's edges, the road beneath it and the infill material are all at the right temperature, creating optimal conditions for a longer-lasting fix.
Masters engineering student Aaron demonstrating the pothole repair machine
The temperature of the road and that of the filler material are crucial. If the road is colder than the filler, or vice versa, it won't bond. "We found if we do about 10 minutes of pre-heating, it improves the bond strength nearly 100%," explained Mujib, to the sound of masters engineering student Aaron demonstrating how the machine runs back and forth on rails in the lab at Brunel.
Longer-lasting repairs mean fewer potholes in the future – very attractive for local authorities, who often patch up potholes, only to see them come back as repeat repairs after a cold winter. The number of potholes keeps increasing all the time for several reasons – including, as PhD candidate Fauzia Saeed discusses in the programme, the way we coat roads to reduce noise, and the tread depth of 'grippy' tyres favoured by haulage companies.
PhD candidate Fauzia Saeed talking about road surface degradation research
So how profitable could this technology be? Mujib told Ruth that even a couple of potholes on a motorway – part of ageing infrastructure well beyond its original anticipated lifespan – could have a massive financial impact. As Mujib explains, "the M25 was designed to last for 20 years in 1965/66. We had a meeting with the M25 a few weeks ago. They have two potholes on a bridge, so they have to close this bridge for the repair. They were saying that the total cost – in terms of closing the road, the traffic delays and everything – could be nearly half a million pounds."
With such cost savings at stake, and the scale of the problem for both roads and cycleways, hundreds of thousands of machines could be needed. All the more reason for Mujib to continue his quest to perfect the technology.
Find out more about pothole repair research at Brunel.
Joe Buchanunn, Media Relations
+44 (0)1895 268821 firstname.lastname@example.org