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MIT Researchers Release Study That Shows Stiffer Pavements Reduce Vehicle Fuel Consumption

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A new MIT study, released this week, shows that using stiffer pavements on the nation’s paved roads could reduce vehicle fuel consumption by as much as 3 percent. To put that savings into perspective, even a more conservative estimate of 1 percent, though negligible for each vehicle, would add up to 91 million barrels of crude oil per year or $5.2 billion at today’s oil prices when applied to the 250 million vehicles that travel those roads annually. This would result in an accompanying annual decrease in CO2 emissions of 15.5 million metric tons, the equivalent of the CO2 stored in roughly 3,800 square miles of trees.

Stiffer pavements would decrease deflection and reduce a car’s "footprint." "This work is literally where the rubber meets the road," says Professor Franz-Josef Ulm, the George Macomber Professor in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. "We’ve got to find ways to improve the environmental footprint of our roadway infrastructure....." For a full press release from MIT, go to The completed research report is accessible at

The research clearly points to the need for a renewal of the nation’s highway system overall. The researchers say the initial cost outlay for better pavements would quickly pay for itself not just in fuel efficiency and decreased CO2 emissions, but also in reduced maintenance costs.

The study, released in a recent peer-reviewed report, is the first to use mathematical modeling rather than roadway experiments to look at the effect of pavement deflection on vehicle fuel consumption across the entire U.S. road network. A paper on this work has also been accepted for publication later this year in the Transportation Research Record.

This research was conducted as part of the Concrete Sustainability Hub at MIT, which is co-sponsored by the Ready Mixed Concrete Research & Education Foundation and Portland Cement Association.

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