Volvo’s futuristic concept, the Fenix, is an experiment in how paving equipment may appear in the future. Although currently only a pipe dream, there are real engineering aspects that could apply to upcoming products.
The Fenix is a complete paving and finishing machine, with a focus on efficiency and the environment. Paving progress is not dependent on trucks carrying hot asphalt but rather on lightweight insulated “thermopods” containing 17-t (19-ton) of asphalt mix, which are positioned in front of the approaching Fenix and loaded automatically onboard as the Fenix arrives. The pods collapse once empty, ready for return and reuse at the mixing plant.
Instead of the current coordination of trucks, milling machines, pavers, and compactors, the Fenix manages all tasks, dependent only on the pods placed before it. A team of workers is no longer needed to monitor depth, width, and density; a single operator can now manage all aspects. Volvo claims more consistent road surfaces, safer working environments, and cost reductions over current methods.
Pods are placed at 50-m (164-ft) intervals, and with a continuous loading and unloading of pods, a steady speed of 25 m/min (82 ft/min) is possible. The pods can maintain the asphalt mix at 135ºC (275ºF) for up to three hours, and each is fitted with GPS to estimate the time of arrival and exact location. This information is shared between Fenix, the mixing plant, and pod haulers to ensure the pods are placed at the correct location in time for use. Pods also have solar panels on the top that power lights that warn motorists of the construction site.
Pods enter the front loading ramp onto the conveyor system, and the mix begins to unload. The empty pod is deposited onto the rapidly drying road behind. A hydrogen fuel-cell power source eliminates fumes, noise, and emissions. The asphalt mix is moved to the auger chamber, where it is laid evenly across the exact width by variable pitch, width, and speed radial flights, just ahead of a triple-width screed. All functions are monitored in real time by the operator.
Quick drying asphalt also allows the Fenix to paint road markings as it goes, allowing traffic to use the road as soon as the empty pods have been removed. Recycling the pods and a hydrogen propulsion system allow the Fenix to become a viable green option. Hydraulic fluid is not oil but distilled and de-ionized water. This is a more eco-friendly solution, cheaper, and in case of leaks, not hazardous.
According to Volvo, many of the ideas shown on the Fenix concept are destined to become features of road equipment in the decades to come.