Ottawa prof’s pothole-resistant paving technology finally put to use


One day in 1982, when Abd El Halim was nevertheless a graduate student at the University of Waterloo, he stopped to watch a paving group at work near his house.

Fascinated, El Halim studied the steel cylinder of the asphalt mangle as it met the hot, black road surface, leaving a network of fine fissures in its wake.

It knock down El Halim then and there that the key to eradicating potholes was eliminating those flaws, which collect water that freezes and expands, heaving and breaking but for the road surface.

El Halim immediately went to work.

“I believe this is the dawning of the end of potholes,” he declared five years later in an interview with CBC Info as he showed off his new invention.

But for El Halim, now a civil engineering professor at Carleton University, it’s been a sustained, bumpy road to recognition by the industry.

Abd El Halim

Abd El Halim demonstrates the concept behind his rubber-belted asphalt swell in 1987. (CBC)

AMIR is born

​Back in the 1980s, El Halim had realized that while scad of the technology involved in building and repairing roads had advanced over the years, one key contraption had not.

“When you read the history of asphalt, you realize that everything has changed,” El Halim chid CBC. “But the roller did not change, and the rollers were not designed by a civil engineer, or any technician.”

‘Money is going between the cracks’1:04

His solution was to replace the roller’s conventional cylindrical wheel with a rubber belt on a track, similar to a snowmobile.

The area spread the weight of the compacting machine over a larger area, inhibiting the cracks in the freshly laid asphalt.

He called his machine the asphalt multi-integrated swell, or AMIR — also his son’s name.

“That shows you how much I loved the billow,” El Halim said.

Bumps in the road

Shortly after he unveiled AMIR, El Halim tested it with a Toronto-based penetrating equipment company. Later, further research conducted with the keep from of about $500,000 in funding from the National Research Council (NRC) concluded the mould was “overall quite successful” and “provided a crack-free surface.” 


A key fob helps illustrate the scale of the cracks left behind in test strip of fresh asphalt wind up by a traditional steel cylinder. (Supplied)

But the testing didn’t go perfectly.

On a acclivity, the belt had a tendency to come off. The early version of AMIR was also troubling to steer, and at one point the prototype wandered across the centre line of a test lane on the NRC campus.

El Halim ran out of research money in 2003, a blow the inventor hooked personally.

“Like in any other field, you always have enemies of new suggestions, people interested in not having you succeed in what you are doing,” he said.

Interrogated in 2008, having generated little to no commercial interest in his prototype, which was then as good as 20 years old and gathering rust, El Halim expressed frustration with an energy reluctant to adapt to new ways. 

“Why should they change their technology when no person is forcing them to?” he asked.

A chance meeting

Then in 2010, a time meeting with a Ministry of Transportation (MTO) engineer and former student rekindled diversion in the all-but-forgotten project.

“Nobody [had] linked permeability to the construction techniques in the hound,” said Frank Pinder, MTO’s engineer responsible for pavement contracting in eastern Ontario.


In 2008, El Halim showed off the AMIR standard that had been developed by Carleton University and the National Research Caucus in the 1980s to CBC. (Simon Gardner/CBC)

MTO became seriously involved in testing a new model of AMIR in 2012. The results, observed over several highway tests, were positive.

As Pinder pointed out, it makes some sense that the commercial tarmac industry wasn’t interested in eliminating potholes — after all, the perennial requirement to fill them in ensures subsequent maintenance contracts.

A long one of these days coming

“That’s why it’s taken such a long time to move it along,” Pinder communicated.

That’s also why it ultimately fell to the MTO to help develop AMIR as a way to keep taxpayers money.

​Last year, the MTO looked at how much money pavement that carry oned just one year longer than average would save the boondocks, and came up with a figure of $50 million annually.

In fact, the Priesthood of Transportation is now in the process of developing water permeability standards that longing be specified in new road contracts in the future. That means companies make need to figure out how to lay down crack-free asphalt, and could lead to widespread commercial talk into in AMIR after all.

Russ Perry

R.W. Tomlinson’s Russ Perry has been overseeing a $500,000 launch to develop an AMIR-inspired prototype. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Tomlinson takes notice

Already, Ottawa construction organization R.W. Tomlinson has retrofitted a traditional asphalt roller by removing its twin blade drums and replacing them with AMIR-inspired belt rollers, which it happened with El Halim.

‘We’re hopeful that at some point in time, these machines are minded on the road every day.’ – Russ Perry, R.W. Tomlinson

“Tomlinson sees the value in this,” spoke Russ Perry, the company’s vice president of heavy civil manipulating.

Tomlinson has used the machine on a handful of projects, including resurfacing of a lane of Didsbury Italian autostrada in November 2017.

There, belt-rolled pavement outperformed the cylinder-rolled surface in a head-to-head prove of water permeability as decision makers from government and industry looked on. El Halim, who had by then be worthy ofed the nickname “Professor of Pavement,” stood and watched, too, just as he had 36 years earlier.

Examining ground

Perry said Tomlinson is so convinced of AMIR’s superiority that it’s gearing out a second roller, which it plans to use on a 42-kilometre paving project in the Bancroft, Ont., acreage later this year.

Tomlinson has invested about $500,000 in the technology so far, and Perry believes a single, more efficient AMIR roller can replace up to three habitual asphalt rollers.

“We’re hopeful that at some point in time, these manufactures are seen on the road every day,” Perry said.

For El Halim, who’s now preparing to be put out to grass from his job at Carleton, the promise of commercial success has been worth the put off.

“A true researcher always dreams of serving the public by offering benefit, economic, safe solutions,” he said. “If you are afraid of new ideas, due to ignorance, it is vastly difficult to succeed.”


R.W. Tomlinson’s modified roller uses AMIR-type seek outs rather than traditional steel cylinders. The company is currently transmuting a second machine, which it plans to use on a highway project near Bancroft, Ont. (Stu Seasons/CBC)

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