Profiles from a Carnegie R1 Research Institution Peter Sebaaly

PROFILES FROM A CARNEGIE R1 RESEARCH INSTITUTION

Peter Sebaaly: Engineering and science research leads to improved pavement design

Peter Sebaaly Pavement Engineering and Design laboratory
(Left to right) Professor Peter E. Sebaaly, Pavement Engineering and Science Program Manager Murugaiyah Piratheepan ‘11 M.S., graduate student Stephanos Khalil, graduate student Nicole Elias, graduate student Forrest Hierholzer and Associate Professor Elie Hajj ‘03 M.S., ‘05 Ph.D. in the Pavement Engineering and Design laboratory. Photo by Theresa Danna.

by NIKKI MOYLAN '20

When most people think about the environment, they may not think about how materials such as pavement are recycled. But Professor Peter Sebaaly thinks about this topic all of the time. Director of the Western Regional Superpave Center at the University, and professor of civil engineering, Sebaaly has spent nearly three decades on campus working toward improvements in pavement design, maintenance, and recycling of materials.

He was named the 2019 Outstanding Researcher of the Year.


The Western Regional Superpave Center at the University of Nevada, Reno, is one of five centers created by the Federal Highway Administration to research and implement Superpave technology. 

As a part of pavement engineering and science, the center offers strong academic and research programs for students looking to work in that field, while also promoting sustainability.

Two College of Engineering faculty in pavement engineering and science, Elie Hajj and Adam Hand, work alongside Sebaaly, exploring new methods and technologies in pavement engineering.

Peter Sebaaly

Peter Sebaaly

2019 Outstanding Researcher of the Year

Focus:

Pavement design and materials

Pavement rehabilitation and maintenance

Recycling of pavement materials

Research overview:

Much of Sebaaly’s research is focused on developing innovative asphalt mixtures or processes for laying pavement that can improve its ability to stand to stress and harsh weather.

“We’re probably the only program in the country that has a faculty that spent 18 years in a construction company and then came back to academia,” Sebaaly said. “So that gives us a unique feature and allows us to offer courses in pavement construction that other universities don’t.”

Recycled asphalt pavement leads to earth-friendly practices

“There are three things that are considered to be environmentally friendly that we do,” Sebaaly said. “The first is we recycle old asphalt pavements inside the new.”

Sebaaly said that pavement experiences a lot of damage because of cars and trucks using it, so its average lifespan is 20 to 25 years. He said that old asphalt can be recycled into new pavements, and all of it is used. This prevents waste and helps preserve both the environment and the roads.

“There are 4.5 million miles of roads in the United States, and 95% of them are asphalt,” Sebaaly said. “Recycling asphalt pavement is encouraged here in Nevada, and everywhere else.”

Recycling old tires can give them new life

The second environmentally friendly technique that the center uses is recycling old tires into asphalt. Described by Sebaaly as a “very natural process,” tires are ground up and placed into the asphalt.

“Tires are a product that would go to the dump once they’re done being used, but now it gets put into a natural process where almost 50% of the asphalt is replaced, and it doesn’t hurt the asphalt or the road. It’s a win-win situation,” he said.

Reducing high production temperatures can also help save energy

The third way researchers are reducing the environmental cost of pavement happens at the production plant. Typically asphalt and its aggregates are heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, which requires a high amount of energy. Sebaaly with colleagues and their team of graduate student researchers are using additives to reduce the production temperature by 100 degrees, which saves about 30% of the energy typically used in production.

A point of pride for Sebaaly are the graduate students in the Pavement Engineering and Science program.

The comprehensive graduate program in pavement engineering and science is fully-funded by external research activities. All research activity in the program is conducted by graduate students who are actively supervised by a program manager, Murugaiyah Piratheepan and the program’s other faculty, Elie Hajj and Adam Hand. Additionally, students in the graduate degree program generally receive full financial support to pursue their graduate degrees.

“We’re probably the only program in the country that has a faculty that spent 18 years in a construction company and then came back to academia,” Sebaaly said. “So that gives us a unique feature and allows us to offer courses in pavement construction that other universities don’t.”

Eight graduate courses are offered in the Pavement Engineering and Science  program at the College of Engineering, covering diverse topics such as pavement design, material design and production, pavement management, maintenance, and rehabilitation, and pavement construction. Exposure to all aspects of pavement is important to help students understand pavement performance and sustainability, so it’s easier for them once they are trained and certified.

“At the end of their degrees, our students are ready to go to work, and well trained in an industry where they make the roads, and taxpayers through government agency own the roads,” Sebaaly said. “[The government is] glad to have engineers who want to work and are very appreciative.”