A new hard-wearing graphene road surface is being trialled on the A1 in Northumberland this month as part of a drive to increase the longevity of UK roads. It’s hoped the new material will improve the lifespan of a road surface, reducing the frequency of roadworks on the UK’s major routes.

The trial is being carried out by National Highways, the government-run company in charge of the country’s major A-roads and motorways; the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC) at The University of Manchester and Pavement Testing Services (PTS). Together, the organisations hope to learn whether the graphene surface will extend “the operational life of key road features”.

With that goal in mind, the organisations have set about resurfacing a three-mile stretch of the A1 in Northumberland, between Newton on the Moor and West Cawledge, south of Alnwick. The work will continue from Sunday 19 September to Monday 1 November, with the northbound carriageway closed 24/7 while a contraflow remains in place.

Ramp Ahead roadworks sign on UK motorway

Once that is complete, the graphene surface – which is just one atom thick – will be tested and monitored in real-world conditions. Already used in aerospace engineering, electronics and biomedicine, graphene is essentially a single sheet of carbon atoms, arranged in a honeycomb pattern. It’s the basis of the graphite ‘lead’ found in a pencil, and it’s in demand for its strength, conductivity and flexibility.

By placing a layer of graphene over the road surface, National Highways’ asset needs manager, Graeme Watt, said he hoped the organisation could increase the longevity of road surfaces. He also said it could also help push the highway maintenance sector into more eco-friendly maintenance.

UK motorway services roadworks cones

“This is an exciting time for National Highways. We are constantly striving to improve the journeys of our customers and graphene has real potential to do that,” said Graeme Watt. “Laboratory trials have been a success and the on-site trials in Northumberland will be a world first use of graphene in road production, which enforces our commitment to innovation and helps to push the industry towards more carbon-friendly maintenance with longer-lasting solutions which we all benefit from.

“Graphene’s benefits are industry-changing. It’s stronger than steel and adding it to other materials can turn them into super materials. From what we’ve seen so far, it could make some of our assets last significantly longer.”

However, the installation of the graphene surface will require maintenance, and National Highways is choosing to coincide the work with resurfacing both carriageways of the A1 between Purdy Lodge and Detchant. But this additional stretch is not part of the graphene trial.