The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded a $100,000contract to Solar Roadways for the development of the first-ever SolarRoad Panel prototype.
Imagine driving on a highway that reduces our dependency on fossilfuel, revitalizes the economy, warns drivers about wildlife, lasts upto 21 years and prevents snow and ice buildup. The Solar Roadway isan “intelligent road that provides clean, renewable energy whileproviding safer driving conditions, along with power and data delivery.”
Scott Brusaw has been thinking about electrified roadways since hewas six years old. Years later, with global warming in the news, hiswife Julie asked him why he couldn’t take his electric road idea andconstruct it out of solar panels. Brusaw, who has his master’s degreein electrical engineering, said it couldn’t be done. Or could it?
Instead of using traditional petroleum-based asphalt surfaces, roadsand parking lots will be constructed out of new solar panels. Besidesproviding a smooth driving surface, the new solar roadways will be ableto collect solar energy and help power homes and businesses. The panelswill capture and produce energy from the sun and provide otherintelligent features as well.
Solar Roadway Features:
- Heating elements will be embedded in the surface of the road,preventing snow and ice accumulation. This feature may eliminate theneed for expensive snow and ice removal services and products commonlyused to keep the roadways clear.
- Businesses and homeowners will no longer have to shovel the driveways.
- Since Solar Roadway panels generate and carry electricity, electricvehicles could be easily recharged anywhere along the roadway, at arearest stops, restaurants, parking lots, etc.
- LEDs will be embedded in the panels and lit from below, similar to airport runways, providing safer nighttime driving.
- Flashing warnings such as “detour ahead” will alert drivers to potential road hazards ahead.
- LEDs can be customized for personalized messages such as “Baby shower here.”
- Replaces power stations, coal and nuclear-powered electricity-generating plants and outdated power poles.
- The smart roads will also be able to “sense wildlife” and warndrivers with motion sensors. Not only will the warnings help preventexpensive and costly damage from animal-vehicle collisions, but couldalso prevent human injuries and fatalities while reducing the millionsinjured and killed wildlife as well.
Each 12 x 12 foot panel is constructed out of three layers:
- The weatherproof bottom layer distributes the power collected from the middle layer.
- The middle layer contains the electronics – solar collecting cells with LEDS, caps that store the sun’s energy and sensors.
- The top layer will be constructed out of a textured glass material.The glass layer must be strong enough for heavy loads, textured enoughto provide traction, transparent enough to allow sunlight in withoutglare and must be shatter, fire and weatherproof.
With an average of four hours of sunlight each day and 15%efficiency, it is expected each 12 x 12 panel could produce an averageof 7.6kWh every day. Because only one-third of the panels requiresunlight, panels in tunnels or dark areas will be able to store energyfrom nearby panels that are in the sun!
According to the Idaho-based company press release, it is estimatedit would take 5 billion panels to cover all the asphalt surfaces in theUnited States. It would take 440 panels to create a one-lane, one-mileroad. Brusaw estimates that up to 2.5 million full-time jobs would becreated in the assembly of the product. The estimated lifetime of theproduct is approximately 21 years, which is three times the lifespan ofasphalt roadways, and the cost per-square foot? Just $48! Instead ofspending money maintaining our deteriorating roadways, the money couldbe used for the new intelligent Solar Roadways.
Earlier this year, the company was selected as one of the five finalists in the category of Best Enabler Award for Green Engineering in the 2009 Annual Creativity in Electronics Awards (ACE).
Image courtesy of Solar Roadways