Asphalt 4.0 and future mobility

The quadrennial E&E Congress has always been an effective forum to learn about trends and innovation in our sector. This year’s virtual event in June, postponed from last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will be a key opportunity to share experiences and come together as an industry to discuss the potential challenges that lie ahead as we work to ‘build back better’.

In this, the first of a two-part series, we explore the meaning of the Asphalt 4.0 theme for the 2021 Congress and the possible impacts the global pandemic could have on future mobility scenarios. Of course, developments in the bitumen sector will also help shape the future of asphalt – and vice versa - and these changes will be the under the spotlight in the follow up feature.


A road revolution

Through previous stages of industrial development, highways have played a vital role in connecting communities and generating economic opportunities. Moving into the fourth phase of the industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, their crucial role in underpinning prosperity is expected to endure.

Change will come, however, in the new or adapted modes that road users – whether pedestrians, cyclists, private or commercial drivers – will use to travel upon those highways. Future highway network use will necessitate integrated, connected and electrified transport systems to support the shift to ‘mobility as a service’. Similarly, vehicle electrification as well as the emergence of autonomous vehicles (AV) – encompassing a range of vehicle types from driverless cars to automated trucks using advanced platooning solutions – will influence users’ expectations in the years to come.

This undoubtedly has implications for future road construction and maintenance with the need for SMART highways, able to support the operation of connected networks, AV, as well as the management of traffic signals and monitoring of the condition of the road, all impacting on requirements.

For policy makers, future mobility is seen as an opportunity to create transport infrastructure that encourage active travel (walking and cycling), as well as being efficient, safer, less polluting and more accessible to larger parts of society than the current car-centred ones. The vision across Europe is for low carbon highway networks that can help achieve carbon neutrality targets by 2050, fight congestion and pollution and improve quality of life.

Fit for the future

The impact of COVID-19 on future mobility trends is still unfolding, with people’s attitudes towards mobility concepts likely to shift, or even zig zag, as they adjust to the ‘new normal’. Certainly, with the timing and outcome of the recovery remaining uncertain, the concept of the daily commute now increasingly looks to be revisited as people and organisations adapt to home working, potentially permanently.

Continued social distancing also means public transport usage in most European cities remains well below pre-COVID levels. People are currently opting for personal mobility options (microbility), with the sales of bicycles and electric scooters rising and active forms of travel surging.

While planned private investment in AV infrastructure may become constrained by a prolonged economic downturn, what is becoming clear is Governments’ intentions to use economic stimulus plans to influence future mobility post-lockdown. Such moves are in line with the World Economic Forum’s view that ‘recovery measures need to be aligned with zero-emission mobility ambitions’ as well as being shaped by the European Green deal – which acknowledges that ‘automated mobility and smart traffic management systems will [help to] make transport more efficient and cleaner’.

Future mobility and Asphalt 4.0

Undoubtedly, this is a transformative time for future mobility, with forecasters, industry experts and investors more open to new scenarios on which modes of transport could gain traction than perhaps they were pre-COVID.

Road, cycle and pedestrian networks are being adapted right now across Europe. Combined with expected shifts in the types and volume of traffic, the increased take up of asset management approaches, plus further revisions to regulatory frameworks – the implications for our sector are fundamental.

What remains clear is that people will continue to rely on highways for mobility. Whether new, adapted or maintained, pavements will continue to be needed to enable people to stay connected, which ever mode of mobility they opt to use upon them.

As a sector it’s vital that we are ahead of the curve demonstrating to stakeholders that they can rely on our professionalism, versatility and technical excellence to support the highways revolution that lies ahead. With this as an expectation, the theme of the next E&E Congress, Asphalt 4.0, becomes very relevant. The conference is a vital platform, enabling the industry to show we are ready to provide ‘smart’ asphalt and bitumen that can fulfil the complex combination of requirements that 21st century roads will demand.

In the second part of this feature series, Bitumen 4.0, we examine the benefits that bitumen can offer and the role it will play in the new mobility landscape. 


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