Video: Cambridge gets world's first glow in the dark path - coming soon to a city near you?

Light-emitting UV crystals save time and cost and improve safety, says company behind concept

by Simon_MacMichael   October 21, 2013  

Pro-Teq Starpath at Christ's Pieces in Cambridge

A British company has developed a ‘glow in the dark’ path surface – claimed to be a world first – and is currently trialling it at a park in Cambridge. If successful, the concept could be rolled out elsewhere in the city for footpaths and bike paths. The business behind it hopes it will also be used in other places in the UK.

Pro-Teq Surfacing UK's Starpath has ultraviolet (UV) crystals embedded in its surface, which soak up UV light during the daytime then release energy at night. The result is a luminous surface that from the pictures we’ve seen almost has an unearthly beauty about it.

The concept, which is being trialled at Cambridge’s Christ’s Pieces park, is explained in this video from Pro-Teq Surfacing UK:

It’s not the first time we've come across luminous surfacing – earlier this year, the BBC reported that researchers in the Netherlands were testing using similarly light-emitting crystals (they were also trialling heated cycle paths) on white lines in the centre of a road as well as other road markings (see video below), but it’s the first time we’ve seen it in the UK.

Both in Britain and in the Netherlands, one of the prime motivations behind developing luminous surfaces is the same – local authorities are short of cash, and one way they are saving money is by switching off lighting on streets and paths.

Besides the fact that the path’s luminous properties mean that no streetlamps are required, and can also help local authorities reduce their carbon footprint. Another claimed advantage is that it can be laid on top of an existing surface.

That means that unlike when a normal path is replaced, it does not have to be dug up and removed, thereby cutting out time and cost and having to dispose of waste material afterwards.

The trial path in Cambridge, which covers 150 square metres, took 30 minutes to prepare and was ready to be reopened to the public just four hours after work began.

Pro-Teq’s owner, Hamish Scott, said: “There is nothing like Starpath in the world, this product adjusts to the natural light, so if it is pitch black outside the luminous natural earth enhances, and if the sky is lighter, it won’t release as much luminosity – it adjusts accordingly, its almost like it has a mind of its own. It is exceptional.

“At Pro-Teq Surfacing (UK) Ltd, we use natural earth products and it cannot be replicated by any other source; you need to physically see it to believe it, this is pure nature doing its work.”

The surface also has anti-slip properties and is non-reflective, with Pro-Teq saying that it can help reduce the risk of collisions between cyclists and pedestrians at night.

Mr Scott added: “Councils spend significant sums of money fully replacing existing pathways when the existing surfaces have reached the end of their practical life. Our product is cost effective, fast to apply and fast to set, is an anti-slip surface, while the client has a choice of size and colour of aggregate.

“Once the aggregate is laid we apply a finishing coat, which is specially formulated to ensure the surface is water-resistant, and provides longevity to the finished product. Further, the surface is environmentally-friendly and aesthetically pleasing.”

He continued, “We are so pleased Cambridge City Council has agreed to trial the product. Starpath has attracted much interest from the public, in Cambridge and other councils in the UK. We continue to refine and adapt the product to ensure it meets the on-going needs of our customers and the environment.”

Cambridge City Council’s executive member for public places, Andrea Reiner, was quoted on as saying: "This is an interesting idea that the surfacing company asked if the council would like to explore for a trial period.

"If we decided to put this to use on paths in the city, we would want to balance any safety benefit against the desire to preserve the historic nature of our open spaces."

[Note: We understand that paths on Christ's Pieces are no-cycling and this article has been amended accordingly. Pro-teq's original release on this project says: "This product has recently been sprayed onto the existing pathway that runs through Christ’s Pieces open space, Cambridge between the city centre and the Grafton Centre, and is used by pedestrians and cyclists during the day and night."]

15 user comments

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Very nice, half the battle at night is avoiding potholes and road debris. However I think there's few places this would have a true use - most cycle paths are lit and those that are not are usually avoided at night. Maybe on towpaths here in London for the winter commute?

The Human Cyclist A blog. Try it, you might like it...

sm's picture

posted by sm [361 posts]
21st October 2013 - 22:36


What about the effects on animals and insects? Luring species to it's luminescent glow...only to be squished and decapitated!

posted by NorthEastJimmy [42 posts]
21st October 2013 - 22:46


There's a gert long stretch of the Brisol - Bath bike path that isn't lit and that's flippin' dark.

I suppose any potholes would show up as black patches in the path's surface, thought given the speckly look of the light they still might be hard to spot. Even so, very cool… though maybe not as cool as those Dutch roads if/when they're built.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4188 posts]
21st October 2013 - 22:48


I was just thinking how amazing this would be in the Two Tunnels in Bath. And then I remembered there would be no daylight to recharge it... Confused

posted by thelimopit [121 posts]
21st October 2013 - 23:20


Nice, but wouldn't you still need lights to see anything on/around the path? (other cyclists, pedestrians, animals, etc).

Still very nice and good to see governments actually investing on cyclepaths even if it is to save some cash.

posted by warpo [8 posts]
22nd October 2013 - 3:55


In Winter we have more than 10 hours of darkness each day, so supplemental lighting may still be required. "Up to 10 hours glow" quoted in the video would not be enough. It's still a good idea.


posted by nbrus [286 posts]
22nd October 2013 - 6:12


the claims that it gives off more light as it gets darker doesn't really stack up with the fundamental physics involved. The rate at which electrons decay from a higher energy orbit to a more stable lower orbit, emitting energy in the form of light, will in fact be higher when it is lighter, as there will be more electrons being promoted to those higher levels.

posted by Al__S [809 posts]
22nd October 2013 - 6:46


Really cool looking path, great idea.
A messaage to the team who installed it though, please can you ensure a decent regime of snow clearance in winter. last thing you need is bad press as your great idea is undone due to a sprinking of the white stuff.

THere is only bad choice of clothing, not bad weather. MTFU and get out there and ride.
A little mantra for me in the winter months

posted by stealfwayne [111 posts]
22nd October 2013 - 8:26


warpo wrote:
Nice, but wouldn't you still need lights to see anything on/around the path? (other cyclists, pedestrians, animals, etc).

Still very nice and good to see governments actually investing on cyclepaths even if it is to save some cash.

Thats my concern. If a road/path isnt lit then that does not make it 'unsafe' . To be unsafe requires the user to drive/ride faster than the speed they can stop. If your showing them where the road/path is by luminous paint then its likely users will go faster than is safe, given the luminous paint wont warn of other dangers/users.

STATO's picture

posted by STATO [442 posts]
22nd October 2013 - 12:03


You guys do know that Christs Pieces is the one bit of green space in Cambridge where cycling is not allowed, at any time, on any of the paths? So if this is where the trial is it is NOT a test to see if its a good cycle surface?

posted by Gnomeicide [7 posts]
22nd October 2013 - 13:19


considering how cash-strapped local authorities are, what is the cost per metre square compared to old fashioned non-luminous tarmac?

If they can create a crystal that explodes on contact with dog muck and broken glass, thus eliminating the depositors of such hazards then they'd be onto something. Of course they'd then have to add properties that would remove exploded dog and chav parts... could get complicated.

joemmo's picture

posted by joemmo [1034 posts]
22nd October 2013 - 13:20


Awesome! Glow in the dark car parking!

posted by farrell [1769 posts]
22nd October 2013 - 15:05


Well I think it looks pretty. No idea how practical it would be to ride on or economically.

posted by MrGear [85 posts]
22nd October 2013 - 17:41


So if you crashed on it… glow in the dark road rash?

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4188 posts]
22nd October 2013 - 17:43


“At Pro-Teq Surfacing (UK) Ltd, we use natural earth products "

F*(****CK! They're spreading plutonium on the bike paths now!

posted by Ush [474 posts]
23rd October 2013 - 0:30