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Are Cool Pavements Worth the Investment?

Are Cool Pavements Worth the Investment?

The increasing threat of global warming has pushed both the government sector and private industry into a hunt for smarter, alternative ways of living. One such technology, “cool” or smart pavement, hopes to reduce the concrete jungle effect of big cities by replacing traditional asphalt with reflective material. The upcoming tech has successfully passed initial tests and will be implemented on a larger scale in Los Angeles.

What is Smart Pavement?

Traditional black asphalt absorbs anywhere from 80 to 95 percent of sunlight. In contrast, cooler alternatives are a range of upcoming technologies that seek to reduce the heat entrapment common with public roads. Many contain a GuardTop sealcoating that reflects the heat, enhances water evaporation and remains cooler. The cooler alternative has been successfully tested in select parking lots in Los Angles, and the city hopes to begin testing on public roads. Officials plan to study the public’s reaction, the longevity of the GuardTop coating and the overall effects of the lowered air temperature.

Environmental Benefits

The most beneficial aspects of the cooler alternative to black asphalt are the overall lowered temperature and reduced reliance on A/C units. The impact on the environment of cooling the air temperature down is more relevant than ever as the globe faces unprecedented heating in the modern era. California has allocated $150,000 to a cooler roads project that aims to reduce temperatures by up to fifteen degrees. Alan Barreca, an environmental science professor at the University of California, believes that the temperature difference will be so apparent that it will significantly reduce the use of air conditioning. If his predictions are accurate, then greenhouse gases could be drastically reduced in areas with heavy traffic.

Global warming advocates are in agreement with the scientific community about the dire consequences to both the environment and humanity of not reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. They argue that failing to do so will lead to extreme climate change including rising temperatures around the globe. Greenhouse gases are not the only way that traditional black asphalt contributes to rising temperatures. The dark black asphalt absorbs massive amounts of solar energy and later radiates it back into the atmosphere. The current goal is to target areas that suffer from extreme heat that would benefit most from such solutions and gauge the impact of such projects.


The Department of Energy’s Berkeley Lab extensively studied the entire life cycle of various street materials including conventional asphalt, concrete and reflective coatings. They found that the energy and emissions used in creating alternatives often outweighed the expected benefits. Partnering with UC Pavement Research Center, thinkstep Inc. and the University of Southern California, Berkeley looked at the different methods over a span of 50 years. The groups looked at the entire life cycle of materials including the manufacturing, installation, usage and disposal. They found that producing and maintaining reflective coating requires more than six times the energy needed for traditional rock and asphalt coating. Another study, conducted by Melvin Pomerantz in Berkeley, found that California’s cities could save 60 cents a year at most and avoid only about one cent per year of carbon dioxide emissions.

Facility Management

There are several benefits that cooler alternatives can offer for facility management. The EPA argues that such technologies reduce storm water runoff, lower tire noise, enhance safety, improve local comfort and increase nighttime visibility. As managers, these considerations are important for the overall productivity of your team. Noise pollution is one of the biggest problems in most offices. Permeable alternative roads, according to the EPA, can reduce tire noise by two to eight decibels. Additionally, the overall lowered air temperature around your office can make your staff more comfortable while simultaneously saving money on running the office A/C unit.

The implementation of such cooler roads in Los Angles will further reveal if such alternatives are worth the investment. While recent research suggests that the environmental harm may outweigh the benefits, the technology is proven to significantly decrease the overall air temperature in cities. This increasingly important aspect may make the technology more adoptable as global temperatures continue rising to extreme levels. If something isn’t done to reduce the concrete jungle effect, then big cities will likely be avoided as the heat becomes intolerable in the coming years. Researchers, scientists and politicians continue working together to come up with innovate and alternative solutions to the climate crisis.

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