Advanced Composites and Hybrid Materials

, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 381–388 | Cite as

A review of using reflective pavement materials as mitigation tactics to counter the effects of urban heat island

  • Shanshan Zhu
  • Xianmin MaiEmail author


Urban heat island (UHI) is a phenomenon which creates temperature distinction between cities and its ambient environment outside cities, which also increases the energy consumption of cooling during summer time. Paving surface materials account for a high proportion of cost in urban construction and contribute significantly to urban heat island. Solar-reflective materials used in paving surface alternative to traditionally absorptive materials can reduce high-temperature storage by daylight and release the storage at night. In this review, the reflective paving techniques and materials will be introduced with the analysis and description of the main thermal performance and existing developments as a tactic for effects’ mitigation of UHI. Furthermore, real applications and the market barrier of these materials will be summarized. The expectation is that reflective materials on the roadways have considerable influence in the temperature’s decrease in paved surfaces and ambient air during summertime, and they are proposed to be adopted especially in hot regions to retard certain influences of the urban heat island.

Graphical abstract

Fig. 5 Scheme of retro-reflective materials operating (source: Rossi, F., Pisello, A. L., Nicolini, A., Filipponi, M., & Palombo, M. (2014))


Reflective pavement materials Mitigation strategy Urban heat islands 

1 Introduction

The world’s surfaces have been changed due to the construction of more dark surfaces and less vegetation as a result of urbanization. It has been demonstrated that asphalt surfaces emit an additional 150 W/m2 in infrared radiation and 200 W/m2 in sensible parts of the spectrum compared to bare soil surfaces at the maximum temperature during summer days [1]. The description of urban heat island is that urban area has a higher heat than suburban areas around it. This circumstance is mainly caused by the heat stored and re-radiated by massive buildings inside the city and the factitious heat. The increased urban temperature will aggrandize the usage of energy that is caused by reducing the temperature in summer, aggravate contamination issues, augment the urban footprint, and even give rise to issues in everyone’s health [2, 3].

The envelope materials of structures within the city are of great significance for balancing temperatures within the city, and pavements, such as parking spaces and roads, account for a significant proportion (about 40%) of the urban structures and have a huge contribution to the development of UHI phenomenon. The paving surfaces assimilate radiation from sunlight and reserve the heat under the roadway of the city by daylight. Then, the paving surfaces liberate the energy through the form of infrared radiation. Also, the flow direction of the energy follows the law of convection so that the places around obtain additional heat at night, resulting in this situation—UHI phenomenon [4, 5].

Highly reflective pavements have increasingly been accepted as a kind of cool paving material all around the world. Reflective pavements have this unique characteristic called high solar reflectance (SR), leading to a lower surface heat because the pavements reflect the majority of the solar radiation by daylight, and the remaining sensible heat is unlocked and goes to the surrounding air in the evening. This circumstance is relatively different from the same paving materials which have lower values of SR [6]. Augmenting the albedo of the paving surface will lessen the air exchange between higher-temperature places and lower-temperature places, thereby decreasing the temperature of ambient air, contributing to alleviate UHI’s influences [7].

The reason why this summary is made is that evaluating the thermal performance of conventional and reflective paving techniques with adequate data analysis according to intensive research in this field can help researchers have the deeper comprehension of the relationship between different reflective pavements and urban weather. In addition, the real applications, market barrier, and future research direction of the reflective pavements will also be introduced in this review.

2 Thermal performance of reflective pavements and their impact on UHI

Thermal performance of reflective pavements will be mainly assessed through the temperature of the paving surface in this review because as the temperature of paving surface gets lower, the liberative energy in the surrounding environment decrease thereby reducing air temperature all around. Furthermore, the temperature of the pavements’ surface can be expressed by several indexes such as albedo, solar reflectance, infrared emittance, and solar reflectance index (SRI). This relationship between surface temperature and evaluation indexes is introduced in the following section.

2.1 Evaluation index

2.1.1 Albedo

The definition of albedo is a portion of power from the Sun which reflects on the outside integrated over the entire hemisphere and the solar wavelength range. High albedo and low albedo correspond to reflective/light colors and absorptive/dark colors, respectively. When the value of albedo gets bigger, catoptric solar energy accordingly increases, which will contribute to reducing the heat in the surface of the roadway.

2.1.2 Solar reflectance

Solar reflectance (SR), as a part of the incoming energy from sunlight, is reflected by the material on the surface with the consideration of the radiation’s hemispherical reflectance, which includes specular as well as diffusion reflection. The range of the value is between 0 and 1. The higher the SR value, the more solar radiation is reflected by the surface, contributing to lower surface temperature.

2.1.3 Infrared emittance

Infrared emittance (e) is defined as a parameter within the range of 0 and 1. The infrared emittance defines the capability of a high-temperature material to release part of the heat through the modality of infrared radiation as a certain number. As the e value gets higher, the ability to release solar energy gets better, which can also reduce roadway’s temperature on the surface.

2.2 Thermal performance

Reflective pavements refer to a kind of paving technique, which can assimilate less radiation from sunlight by augmenting the paving surfaces’ albedo. Researchers have made considerable investigations of the paving materials in order to comprehend the heat property of those materials.

Several researches try to figure out whether the color of paving materials will affect the temperature on the surface. As a result, light colors perform a higher reflectivity to optical spectrum of solar radiation. In the meanwhile, infrared part of radiation’s reflectivity is less relative to those distinctive colors [8]. Conventional dark roadways often consist of concrete and asphalt. The solar reflectance values of these materials are within the scope of 0.04–0.45. Other materials used in pavements, such as stone, marble, granite, and pebble, are not commonly used. The surface temperature of all these conventional pavements can reach up to 48–67 °C [9]. By using reflective materials instead of traditional dark materials to pave surfaces, the albedo of pavements can be increased by about 0.15 [10]. Table 1 shows the value of solar reflectance of some common paving materials in a different color or covered in different coatings. The comparable value of solar reflectivity showed that light colors present a lower reflectivity value than dark colors of the same paving materials due to their higher ability to reflect the visual spectrum of solar radiation. A study reported that roads in white paint have an albedo value near 0.55, which is similar to the temperature of the surrounding circumstance. However, the unpainted roads have an albedo value about 0.15, which were approximately 11 °C higher compared to the ambient atmosphere [11].
Table 1

Solar reflectance values of frequently adopted pavements and low-temperature pavements (source: Santamouris, M., Synnefa, A., & Karlessi, T. (2011))


Solar reflectance

Black conventional asphalt


White topping on asphalt


Gray concrete slab


White concrete slab


White marble


Dark-colored marble


Other research found that compared to the 0.08 albedo of black coatings, the albedo of white elastomeric coatings was 0.72. This research also reported that the temperature of white paving outside with an albedo of 0.61 was 5 °C higher than the ambient environment; nevertheless, the temperature of conventional gravel pavements have an albedo of 0.09 that is 30 °C higher than the ambient atmosphere [12]. According to the table above, high albedo in reflective pavements can be achieved either by adopting lighter-colored pavements or by adopting colored paving materials to increase reflectivity.

The importance of emittance in pavements materials on reducing the nocturnal temperature of pavements was proved in recent studies. The infrared emittance value of light-colored pavements is higher together with the higher solar reflectance value than conventionally dark-colored pavements. This contributes to a lower nocturnal temperature because these pavements are more able to release heat. Table 2 shows the mean surface nocturnal temperature during summer of different coating materials with different infrared emittance values. The nocturnal surface temperature of the reflective coating is low if the surface material presents a low infrared emittance value.
Table 2

Infrared emittance value for different reflective coating materials (source: Synnefa, A., Santamouris, M., & Livada, I. (2006))

Coating material description


Infrared emittance

Mean nocturnal surface temperature (°C)

Aluminum-pigmented acrylic coating

Silver gray



Acrylic, ceramic coating




Acrylic, elastomeric coating




Alkyd, chlorine rubber coating




Acrylic elastomeric coating




As reported in an experimental study, absorptivity and reflectivity are also determined by the roughness of measured paving materials. Table 3 compares the surface roughness of distinctive material pairs to test the measured nocturnal temperatures in the surface of pavements. In general, paving materials with smooth and flat surfaces had lower temperatures than materials with rough and anaglyph surfaces. Besides, experimental results of the study also demonstrated that tiles which consist of marble, mosaic, and stone had a lower temperature than the others.
Table 3

Measured nocturnal temperature of various material pairs in comparison with different surface roughness (source: Doulos, L., Santamouris, M., & Livada, I. (2004))

Construction materials

Surface color texture

Surface mean temperature (°C)


Gray, smooth without schematic


Gray, rough without schematic


White, smooth without schematic


White, rough without schematic


Black, smooth with schematic


Black, smooth without schematic



White, smooth


White, anaglyph


Apart from the effect of the color and texture of the paving materials on their thermal performance, with the passage of time, the albedo of the pavements changes due to weathering, oxidation at the paving surface, dirt and dust accumulation, and tire wear. Moreover, asphalt concrete pavements and cement concrete pavements behave differently. As shown in Figs. 1 and 2, asphalt concrete pavements are dark colored at first and then get lighter as time goes by with an albedo value increasing from 0.05 to 0.12, while the cement concrete gets darker as time passes by with a decreasing albedo value from 0.35 to 0.25 [13].
Fig. 1

Aged asphalt concrete (left), new asphalt concrete (right) (source:, 2012)

Fig. 2

Aged cement concrete (left), new cement concrete (right) (source:, 2012)

In summary, the heated property of these paving materials is highly related to their solar reflectance, infrared emittance, and aging, and solar reflectance is determined by the color and roughness of the pavements. As such, the development of reflective pavements could be made more reasonable.

3 Existing developments of reflective pavements

In recent years, reflective pavement materials have been used to build cooler pavements. Generally speaking, pavements are made of two main parts. The first is a binder such as asphalt, tar, and Portland cement, and the second is aggregate materials, such as stones of different sizes down to sand [14]. The albedo value is possible to augment through either offering a proper coating on the surface, lighter colors’ aggregation, a suitable binder, or a unity of above-mentioned measure [15]. Many developments and innovations have been accomplished so as to promote their heated property and intensify their profitable impact on heat islands.

Increasing the albedo value in the visible part of the pavements is the most direct way to improve the thermal performance, and this can be seemingly achieved rather easily by using whiter-colored pavement materials on streets and parking lots. However, the widespread usage of whiter-colored materials may cause glare problems which can impact driving safety and the visibility of white lines [12]. Under these circumstances, cool pavements with dark-colored high albedo values were developed. These kinds of reflective pavements can achieve high albedo as well as low brightness by adding a subtle paint coating on the usual dark asphalt roadway’s surface. These pavements have the characteristic of reflecting at a low level in the optical portion of the spectrum (23%) and near-infrared reflectivity at a high level (86%). Figure 3 shows that the function of this pavement. Experimental data has shown that the usage of this infrared reflective colored coating pavements can decrease temperatures on the surface by 15 °C, while usual asphalt roadways cannot achieve this effect [16]. Another study gauged visual capabilities and heated property often prototype cool colored materials using near-infrared reflective color pigmented coatings from August to December compared with conventionally pigmented coatings using the identical color. A consequence was found that coatings using infrared pigment for reflection perform a higher reflectance value than color-matched pigmented coatings under normal circumstances [17].
Fig. 3

Schematic view of paint-coated asphalt pavement (source: Kinouchi, T., Yoshinaka, T., Fukae, N., & Kanda, M. (2003))

Using appropriate reflective coatings on the paving surface will have positive influence to reduce the formation of the urban heat island. A new generation of white-colored reflective coatings were developed recently. These new highly reflective coatings possess a high albedo value. Experimental research was carried out to prove that the use of these new types of reflective coatings can considerably reduce paving surface temperatures. In this study, 14 types of white-colored reflective coatings based on different techniques like acrylic ceramic coating, alkyd chlorine rubber coating, and epoxy polyamide coating were tested. It was showed that using white-colored coatings is possible to decrease a white concrete pavement’s temperature on the surface by 4 °C under the circumstance of hot summer and by 2 °C at night compared to using silver gray–colored, aluminum-pigmented coatings. In addition, the pavements had a higher temperature than the surrounding atmosphere by only 2 °C by the daylight and had a lower temperature than the atmosphere by 5.9 °C at nighttime. Although the type and color were the same, the thermal performance of this coating is distinct because of the differences in its spectral reflectance during daytime and differences between their emissivity at night. Reflective coatings have better-heated property when compared to other traditionally cool paving materials such as white marble and white mosaic [18]. In another study, a highly reflective white coating using lime with a unique acryl binder for reducing the influence of chalking was exploited compared to a normal white reflective coating. These two cool white coatings have features in high levels of reflectance in the optical and the near-infrared scope of the electromagnetic spectrum. Nevertheless, prototype cool white coating that was made by utilizing calcium hydroxide has a reflectance curve which keeps on top compared with the cool white’s coating curve. Table 4 shows the measured values of the reflectance from sunlight and the two different coatings’ infrared emittance. As illustrated in Fig. 4, although both of these two cool coatings present a high value of SR and e, the maximum surface temperature of cool white coatings with lime is 5 °C lower than that of standard cool white coatings due to the slightly higher SR value [19].
Table 4

Solar reflectance and infrared emittance of the tested white coatings (source: Santamouris, M., Synnefa, A., Kolokotsa, D., Dimitriou, V., & Apostolakis, K. (2008))




Prototype cool white coating with lime



Standard cool white coating



Fig. 4

Twenty-four-hour profiles of the surface temperature of two different cool coatings (source: Santamouris, M., Synnefa, A., Kolokotsa, D., Dimitriou, V., & Apostolakis, K. (2008))

The albedo of paving materials will change along with the alteration of surface colors. Thermochromic coatings are distinct from common reflective coatings because of their color-changing properties. Eleven thermochromic coatings were tested through the usage of applying organic thermochromic pigments to a proper binder system. The optical and thermal performances of thermochromic coatings were compared with highly reflective and normal coatings of the identical color. The daily mean surface temperature measured from August to mid-September of the thermochromic coatings ranged from 31.0 to 38.4 °C, while the daily mean surface temperature range of reflective coatings, and common coatings were 34.34 to 45.2 °C and 36.4 to 48.5 °C, respectively. The experimental results demonstrated that the thermochromic coatings on the surface had lower temperatures than that of cool and normal samples, under the circumstance of using the same color [20].

Retro-reflective paving materials were developed as the latest reflective pavements. Five samples of retro-reflective surfaces were tested in a laboratorial and analytic research on the purpose of evaluating the angular reflectance of retro-reflective surfaces. The difference between retro-reflective materials and traditional paving materials is that the direction of reflected beams of light is almost the same as incoming beams of light. Figure 5 shows the scheme of the retro-reflective materials operational effectiveness and illustrates the identical direction of incoming beams and reflective beams. The experimental campaign results showed that retro-reflective materials are possible to reduce reflected energy’s diffusion, which contributes to avoid UHI overheating because most pavement materials behave as diffusive materials at present. Retro-reflective coatings can be used in warm and mild climates as a valid way to alleviate UHI [21].
Fig. 5

Scheme of retro-reflective materials operational effectiveness (source: Rossi, F., Pisello, A. L., Nicolini, A., Filipponi, M., & Palombo, M. (2014))

Different kinds of pavements that can reflect sunlight were developed to be more suitable for real applications and more efficient to lessen the roadway’s temperature upon the surface. Moreover, these practical applications of each reflective pavement should depend on the real situation.

4 Real applications and market barriers of reflective pavements

4.1 Real applications and their thermal performance

In this section, several kinds of real applications and their thermal performance are sum up in Table 5. The following chart shows that the albedo of each project was significantly increased from before through using different reflective paving techniques, and the surface temperature and ambient air temperature both decreased to some extent. The pavements colored with infrared reflective materials were adopted in almost each of the following projects.
Table 5

The real applications of reflective pavement materials (source: Santamouris, M. (2013))


Type of existing pavement

Type of new pavement

Surface of area (m2)



Maroussi, Athens, Greece

Black asphalt and concrete roadways with albedo lower than 0.4

Cool asphalt in roads with albedo near 0.35. Natural reflective materials on the roadways (marble), with albedo 0.7. Concrete pavements colored with infrared reflective cool paints with albedo 0.78.


Replacement of pavements reduces the mean maximum surrounding temperature by 1.2–2.0 K.



Black asphalt and dark concrete roadways with albedo lower than 0.2

Concrete pavements colored with infrared reflective cool paints with albedo between 0.65–0.75 lying upon the color.


Replacement of pavements reduces the mean maximum surrounding temperature by 2.1 K.



Concrete tiles originally of white color, (initial albedo ¼ 0.45). Black asphalt on roads

Use of photocatalytic asphalt on the roads. Concrete pavements colored with infrared reflective cool paints with albedo 0.68.


Replacement of pavements reduces the mean maximum surrounding temperature by 1.6 K. Decrease of the surface temperature of the pavements nearly 4.5 K.



Asphalt concrete and dark paving materials. The albedo of the paved surfaces was within the scope of 0.35–0.45; in the meantime, places covered by concrete and asphalt have the albedo value that was lower than 0.2

Concrete pavements colored with infrared reflective cool paints with albedo 0.60.


Using cool paving materials decreases the maximum surrounding temperature during a representative summer day, by up to 1.9 K. The surface temperature in the park was reduced by 12 K.


Putrajaya, Malaysia

Not mentioned

Paving materials with albedo equal to 0.8.


The global decrease in the temperature due to the realization of trees and cool paving is 1.5 K, which appears that cool pavements’ subscription is near 0.1 K.


Although the favorable consequence of using reflective pavements is obvious, it may cause unexpected influences on the urban microclimates and structure energy usage. When the solar reflectivity increases, more solar radiation can be transported into the adjacent buildings via windows, which has the possibility of increasing the energy use in buildings. A study demonstrated that the annual cooling loads in a four-layer office building increase by 11% (33.1 kWh/m2) with the solar reflectance enhanced from 0.1 to 0.5 in Phoenix, AZ. The result showed that reflective pavements on energy use have a small influence. However, developers still need to evaluate the advantages and the energy implications of this reflective roadways to guarantee their optimum usage in certain places [26].

4.2 Market barriers of reflective pavements

The use of higher reflectance pavements is an efficient way to ameliorate the UHI effect and the developments and innovations are made to encourage people to adopt these reflective pavements to make some contributions. However, the applications of reflective pavements around the world have not met expectations. The evaluation of the market barriers may explain this phenomenon to some extent.

The initial costs of the light-colored materials are higher than traditional dark materials [27]. The lifecycle costs of reflective pavements were calculated and compared with the conventional paving materials. It is demonstrated that the common market barrier of all reflective pavement is the cultural barrier, which is based on the belief “black is better.” As a result, pavements colored with high reflectivity are used in most real applications. The high initial costs of the light-color paving materials may be the most important economic barrier. Through experiments, the damping of cool colored coatings’ optical characteristics is examined after they were exposed to out of door circumstances for 2.5 and 1.5 years separately. The spectral reflectance of the cool coating samples’ damping is within the scope of 0.01–0.19 which results from photo-degradation, material stress because of heated inflation and contaminants deposit. However, the infrared emittance did not have a huge difference because of outdoor exposure and its damping, which is within the scope of 0–0.03 [19]. Even though after adopting these reflective pavements, the cost is lower than using conventional dark pavements in terms of cooling consumption during the summer. What’s more, increasing the reflectance of the pavements may lead to a longer lifetime [15]. Still, developers tend to focus on the low first-cost pavements instead of being responsible for the long-term maintenance of pavements. Besides, the lack of developer standards may be another barrier since the developers lack the idea of using reflective pavements to make contributions to reduce the UHI effect [13].

5 Discussion

Recently, plenty of researches have been made in order to demonstrate better thermal performance of reflective pavements than conventional dark paving materials. However, a different opinion was presented to state that the use of reflective paving materials may increase the energy use of surrounding buildings. In spite of the relatively small cooling energy consumption, we cannot ignore the potential negative impact. Therefore, more research should be conducted to have an overall understanding of the favorable and unfavorable effect of reflective roadways on UHI and energy usage in structures.

In most studies, the thermal performance of reflective pavements was discussed and analyzed in summer, and these pavements are suggested to be adopted in hot regions, like tropical and subtropical areas. Once the reflective materials are paved, we do not know their effects on thermal comfort and urban microclimate during winter. Thus, the thermal performance of the reflective pavements in winter should be studied in the future.

Although the light-colored pavements have high reflectivity and can be achieved easily, which can significantly cool down the surface temperature and ambient air temperature, the problem associated with glare cannot be ignored, especially in urban areas. Therefore, colored pavements with high albedo are more applicable in urban areas. When considering how to relieve the market barriers, developers should pay more attention to the lifecycle costs of pavements instead of only focusing on the initial costs because some kinds of reflective pavements tend to have a longer service life.

6 Conclusion

Using reflective pavements as an alleviation for urban heat island was reviewed in this paper. The thermal performance of reflective paving techniques was introduced first. The heated property of pavements is mostly determined by the solar reflectance, infrared emittance, roughness, and aging of the paving materials. Light-colored pavements with high reflectivity in the solar radiation’s optical spectrum and colored pavements with high albedo value can achieve a lower surface temperature in pavements and lower ambient air temperature. Lower roughness of paving materials can also help to create a lower temperature on the surface. Besides, the reflectance of pavements changes with passage of time, and pavements made of different materials have different responses for aging. Secondly, the current advancements and innovations of reflective roadways were illustrated. Albedo is possible to increase by either providing an appropriate white reflective coating, or colored coatings with high reflectivity or a proper binder, and thermochromic coating or retro-reflective paving materials. Afterwards, the real applications of reflective pavements were summarized in a table, demonstrating that the use of this kind of cool pavement can reduce the temperature on the surface and ambient atmosphere’s temperature. Although the potential negative effects on energy use in structures were mentioned in a study, other research indicated that reflective pavements can help with the mitigation of UHI and improve the microclimate within the city. Generally speaking, using reflective pavements is a sufficient way to mitigate UHI and improve microclimate peculiarly in the city in time of the summer among hot regions.

For the next step of this paper, I will find more information about the effect on urban microclimate in winter once the reflective materials are paved so as to have an overall understanding of their properties. In addition, the applicability of new generations of reflective pavements will be analyzed according to their thermal performance and costs. What’s more, the maintenance of reflective pavement is another part of my further research direction.



I guarantee that this script is innovative and has not come off the press and will not be submitted elsewhere for publication under the consideration of Shanshan ZHU and Xianmin MAI. This research is not branching out into distinctive portions to add the quantity of submissions and submitted to miscellaneous journals or to one journal among a different time. The data that has been used above have not been falsified or tampered (also the pictures are original) to sustain summaries. No data, text, or theories by others are submitted like they came from our work.

The submission has been accepted clearly from all co-authors. And authors whose names appear on the submission have contributed sufficiently to the scientific work and therefore share collective responsibility and accountability for the results.

Funding information

The research is made according to the National Natural Science Foundation of China (51508484) and the Education Reform Funding of Southwest University for Nationalities (2015ZD03).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

This article does not involve any researches with human participants or animals implemented by any of the authors.

Informed agreement was procured from all separate contributors involved in the research.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of ArchitectureJincheng College of Sichuan UniversityChengduChina
  2. 2.School of Architecture and Urban PlanningSouthwest Minzu UniversityChengduChina

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