Published on 30/04/2024
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Aston University civil engineers help to make road surfaces more sustainable
  • Aston University experts are working with road surfacing specialist Miles Macadam
  • The project aims to find a more sustainable alternative to traditional fly ash
  • The two organisations have entered a knowledge transfer partnership (KTP), a collaboration between a business, an academic partner and a highly qualified researcher.


Aston University civil engineering experts are teaming up with construction and surfacing company Miles Macadam to help make road surfaces more sustainable.

The University has entered a knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) with the Cheshire-based firm, which manufactures and installs ‘grouted macadam’, an asphalt and cement-based material for road and industrial surfacing.

A KTP is a three-way collaboration between a business, an academic partner and a highly qualified researcher, known as a KTP associate. The UK-wide programme helps businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills. 

Aston University is a sector-leading knowledge transfer partnership provider, with 80% of its completed projects being graded as very good or outstanding by Innovate UK, the national body.

The grouts that Miles Macadam use in their surfacing products contain fly ash, a waste product from coal-fired power stations, which now has to be imported. As a result, the quality of this fly ash is variable and the supply can be erratic. Miles Macadam is collaborating with the University to find a more sustainable alternative.

Andrew Scorer, co-director at Miles Macadam Ltd, said: “This is the first KTP we’ve been involved in and we’re very excited about it, as are many of our clients who are really keen for us to develop more sustainable products. Aston University clearly has the expertise we need to assess the different ingredients for our grouts and we’re looking forward to working with the team on it.”

The project will explore the use of biochar, a carbon-rich material that is produced from processing organic matter such as wood or agricultural waste at very high temperatures. Using waste materials would also conserve virgin resources and reduce the costs and dependence on imported materials.

The team will produce and test hardened grouts for water absorbency and strength, including if the materials can withstand heavy weights. They will use Aston University’s specialist environmental testing facility to see how the materials respond to extended cycles of freezing and thawing, mimicking the weather conditions that they may be subject to when used. Once the best candidate materials have been identified, they will be tested in real-world conditions at a Miles Macadam site.

The company chose to team up with Aston University because it has the research expertise to characterise alternatives to fly ash and assess how they affect performance, both in the handling of the product and its final properties.

Dr Moura Mehravar is the lead supervisor and the principal investigator of the project. She said: “This project ambitiously aims to replace traditional cementitious materials with biochar, significantly reducing CO2 emissions in the process. My role involves steering the project towards sustainable and practical outcomes, mentoring the associates involved, and ensuring a productive exchange of knowledge between academia and industry. 

“This endeavour highlights our dedication to sustainable construction practices and places us at the forefront of efforts to reduce environmental impact within the construction industry. Through this project, we aim to discover innovative solutions that contribute to a greener future while advancing our understanding and use of alternative construction materials.”

Lead academic is Professor Mujib Rahman, a chartered engineer with more than 20 years’ experience in the field, five of which were spent in industry. He leads Aston University’s Department of Civil Engineering and has extensive research expertise in the fundamental characterisation of asphalt and concrete materials.

He said: “This project brings together different expertise from across the University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to help Miles Macadam future proof their products and reduce their and their clients’ CO2 emissions. It’s going to be fascinating to look in depth at the properties of biochar and see not only how it can work for Miles Macadam’s particular needs, but also how it might be used in many other situations as well. There is huge potential for this sustainable product.”

The third member of the research team is Dr Jaiwei Wang, head of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry.

Together with KTP Associate Payam Sadrolodabaee, they will carry out laboratory tests to see how well the alternative materials mix into the asphalt and concrete grouts. 

The 30-month project will run until July 2026.

Notes to editors

KTPs
This project is co-funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.

Watch our short film to see how it works and visit our website for examples of KTP in action at Aston.

To find out more about how your business can benefit from working with Aston University, please email ktp@aston.ac.uk 


About Aston University
For over a century, Aston University’s enduring purpose has been to make our world a better place through education, research and innovation, by enabling our students to succeed in work and life, and by supporting our communities to thrive economically, socially and culturally.
Aston University’s history has been intertwined with the history of Birmingham, a remarkable city that once was the heartland of the Industrial Revolution and the manufacturing powerhouse of the world.
Born out of the First Industrial Revolution, Aston University has a proud and distinct heritage dating back to our formation as the School of Metallurgy in 1875, the first UK College of Technology in 1951, gaining university status by Royal Charter in 1966, and becoming The Guardian University of the Year in 2020.


Building on our outstanding past, we are now defining our place and role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (and beyond) within a rapidly changing world.
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