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MIT research shows importance of road design in fuel consumption

Recently President Obama announced plans to introduce a rule for higher fuel efficiency standards for medium and heavy duty trucks by 2016. At an appearance at a grocery distribution center in Upper Marlboro, Md., President Obama charged Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to "develop fuel economy standards for heavy duty trucks that will take us well into the next decade."

According to the White House, heavy duty trucks account for just 4 percent of highway vehicles, but are responsible for 20 percent of carbon pollution from the transportation sector. Current fuel-economy standards are aimed at reducing truck fuel use by as much as 20 percent. 

Gregory M. Scott, president and CEO of the Portland Cement Association, said it is time to not only look at the efficiency of cars and trucks on the road, but to look at the actual road for fuel economy and emission reductions.

"We should expand the debate beyond making more efficient cars and trucks to making more efficient infrastructure. Stiffer pavements – such as pavements made from concrete -- produce less rolling resistance and better fuel economy," Scott said.

Researchers at the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub recently found that how the road is constructed could have a significant impact on the fuel economy of cars and trucks. Research models predict the use of stiffer pavements, for example, could reduce fuel use by as much as three percent, a savings that would add up to 273 million barrels of crude oil per year. 

Florida International University tested MIT’s research models in real-world conditions with similar results. They studied vehicles traveling on I-95 and found that riding on rigid pavements consumes 3.2 percent less fuel than riding on flexible pavements for passenger vehicles and 4.5 percent less fuel for loaded tractor-trailers. If all Florida pavements were rigid, it could amount to an annual fuel savings of more than $2 billion for highway users.

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