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Funded PhD Opportunity

Creation of low-impact synthetic aggregates for high-friction road surfacing applications

Subject: Architecture, Built Environment and Planning


This project will develop innovative synthetic, high-friction aggregates in the 1-3 mm range, produced using geopolymer and alkali activated cementitious technologies based on locally available waste streams. Engineered to yield high performance levels of requisite mechanical properties such as strength, toughness and abrasion resistance, these synthetic aggregates will offer significant economic and environmental advantages over existing products on the market.

Project significance

High friction surfaces provide high-contact pressure between pavement/tyre interfaces and hydraulic conductivity (drainage), thereby significantly reducing braking distances and aquaplaning risks.

Applying high friction aggregates to the surface of critical road sections is an established technology proven to save lives. In the UK, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents reported that, based on 34 road schemes, high friction surfacing reduced accidents by 57%. Similarly, the US National Cooperative Highway Research Program reports 20% reduction rates for crashes at treated intersections. High friction aggregate surfacing is an established industry worldwide and is fully adopted by national regulatory bodies and supported by associated related trade bodies and professional organisations.

Currently available solution

The material used almost exclusively worldwide for high friction surfacing is calcined bauxite; a quarried natural material requiring high temperature (1650oC) pre-processing (calcining). As commercial sources of calcined bauxite are limited to China, Guyan and India, it is an expensive import. As such, identifying alternative materials is an ongoing focus of research activities worldwide. Whilst natural aggregates such as flint, basalt and granite have been evaluated, they do outperform calcined bauxite and are restricted to less demanding, non-high friction, environments. The market for high friction road surfacing materials is international, with the majority of local and national road authorities specifying its use across the Europe and the US.

Furthermore, based on proof-of-concept of this technology, future scope exists for application of geopolymer cement-based solutions in related field such as road markings and coloured demarcation zones. Ulster University’s highways engineering research team is uniquely placed to undertake this project as it offers requisite accelerated road testing apparatus not available at any other institution across Europe, a 50-year database of test data relating to industry-led research into high friction surfaces from which to benchmark and an established track-record of research into innovative road construction materials and processes.

Technological advancement proposed

*The products developed from this research will be the world’s first artificial high friction road surfacing aggregate solution, capable of yielding a range of performance levels and colours;

*The fundamental technological advancement proposed by this project is the move away from using scarce natural aggregates, to a highly engineered artificial product capable of being manufactured locally/regionally as required to deliver a range of performance levels;

*The geopolymer and alkali-activated cement mortars developed will comprise bespoke material combinations to create resilient and low porosity binder systems with carefully selected fine aggregates.

As with all high friction aggregates, the product developed will be bonded to road surfaces using compatible, commercially available resin binders.

Competitive advantages through innovation.

An ability to

*produce high friction aggregates locally/regionally as required, with optimised performance levels and aesthetics via material proportioning adjustments;

*market sustainable products manufactured locally using low impact materials and industrial by-products;

*minimise costs associated with transporting bulk goods internationally and contribute positively to local economies

Essential criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • Clearly defined research proposal detailing background, research questions, aims and methodology


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £14,777 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £ 14,777 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

Key dates

Submission deadline
Monday 18 February 2019

Interview Date
13 March to 21 March 2019


Jordanstown campus

Jordanstown campus
The largest of Ulster's campuses

Contact supervisor

Dr Bryan Magee

Other supervisors


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