Video: Whoa, Watch This Concrete Absorb Water Like a Sponge

concreteYou never know what kind of video will become a viral sensation, but a video about concrete seems particularly unlikely. Yet that’s exactly what’s happening to a video from the British manufacturer Tarmac, which has developed a new permeable concrete.

Tarmac calls their new porous concrete Topmix, and the company says it can absorb 1,056 gallons of water every 60 seconds. In the viral video, a concrete mixing truck dumps large quantities of water onto a parking lot paved with Topmix, and the concrete absorbs the water like a sponge.

Back in 2007, the United Kingdom experienced heavy flooding, which caused about $4.8 billion in damage. But unlike most flood events, the rising floodwaters didn’t come from a storm surge or overflow from rivers. Instead, 88% of the flood damage was caused by surface water runoff from inadequate drainage.

In undeveloped areas, 80-90% of rainwater is absorbed into the ground. But in cities, paving materials like concrete cause that re-absorption rate to drop as low as just 10%. Some builders believe permeable paving materials could play an important role in protecting human habitations from stormwater and flooding.

Despite the sensation caused by the new video, permeable concrete has been used by builders for more than a century. Permeable concrete is not only more expensive than other paving materials, it can’t bear as much weight. And even though concrete is the second-most used product in the world (after water), asphalt is more commonly used for paving. In the United States, there are 2.4 million miles of roads covered in asphalt, or 94% of all road surfaces.

According to Tarmac, their new porous concrete is capable of being used in streets and parking lots. The company claims it’s one of the first permeable pavements that can be practically used in a similar way to regular concrete or asphalt pavements. And with extreme weather events becoming more common with each passing year, building experts say that new materials like this could play an important role in the urban planning of the future.

“Permeable paving sources are extremely important. Otherwise, water gets concentrated into systems that were designed in ways that are becoming increasingly expensive,” said Dana Buntrock, an architecture professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “These days, storms are breaking records…With the volume of water that’s coming out of the sky, [dealing with stormwater] is going to be even more critical.”

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