September 9, 2013

Indy 500 Asphalt Could Improve Fuel Economy

Lee Rannals for – Your Universe Online

Researchers at the 246th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) said the pavement at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway could be used to help improve safety on our regular roadways.

Scientists believe the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indianapolis 500, contains automotive technology that could improve the durability, smoothness and safety of the two million miles of paved roads and streets across the US.

"The Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) was built in 1909 to develop and test the latest technologies in automobiles," noted Anthony J. Kriech, who made one of the presentations at ACS. "Many new technologies were tested under race conditions at Indy. Rearview mirrors, front-wheel and all-wheel drives, overhead cam shafts that improve engine performances, improved lubricants and oils, turbochargers, safer and more durable tires and other technology. Today IMS continues to be a leader in testing new technologies, as well as asphalt pavement development."

The pavement at the motor speedway consists of crushed rock, sand, gravel and other material glued together with a "binder" that is typically a thick, sticky, black bitumen formed as a product of petroleum refining or mined from natural deposits.

Road surfaces can play a role in determining fuel economy, and some studies have shown that smoother surfaces can reduce fuel consumption by about five percent. Rough roads waste approximately 555 million gallons of fuel on interstate highways each year. The pavement's stiffness and ability to resist the deflections or tiny dents made by tires is another key factor in determining fuel economy. Small dents made by a vehicle rolling down the road creates nearly 200 million gallons of gas and diesel fuel waste a year on interstates.

"Road surface becomes an even more important factor when speeds exceed 220 mph, as they do at IMS," William J. Pine, who is with Heritage Research Group, said in a press release. "Imagine those speeds, hour after hour, when the sun may heat the road surface to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It takes a road surface with a carefully calibrated combination of smoothness, durability, stability and friction."

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway asked researchers at Heritage Research Group to create a track surface with unparalleled smoothness, while maintaining the critical levels of friction needed to keep racecars from flying off the road. The new surfaces needed to be durable and capable of resisting the tearing motion of racecars that drive roughly at high speeds.

The team used computer simulations to help determine the stiffness and other specifications needed for the new asphalt surface at the speedway. In order to meet those specifications, the researchers worked with the Firestone Polymers to develop a new asphalt binder.

"The last resurfacing of the oval in 2004 established that the collaboration between IMS, Heritage and Firestone was a great success," Anthony J. Kriech said in a press statement. "The track will be [nine] years old this autumn, and yet has the appearance of just being built. It already has exceeded the life of typical track surfaces."