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Tarmac 2.0 has just taken its first baby-step. The solar road technology that promises to produce clean electricity, replace power transmission and information infrastructure, requires no plowing and lights up to provide navigational and safety information is about to go from the drawing board to prototype production. The Department of Transport has seen fit to award the project $100,000 to construct the first 12' by 12' panel.

The panels that make up the road consists of three layers. The base contains power and data lines and is overlaid by the electronics strata that contains solar cells, LEDs and supercapacitors which would produce and store electricity while the LEDs would "paint" the surface with light. This layer also holds the microprocessors and communications device that would make highways "intelligent". The top layer is made of glass that should supply the same traction as asphalt, is strong enough to handle whatever traffic can dish out and protect the electronic goodies below. Scott Brusaw, the guy who came up with the Solar Roadways idea, estimates that if every street, driveway and parking lot was replaced with his invention, it would supply three times as much electricity as was used in the U.S. in 2003. Hit the jump for a video of Scott explaining his idea as well as a brief press release.

[Source: Solar Roadways]



PRESS RELEASE:

US DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION AWARDS $100,000

RESEARCH CONTRACT TO SOLAR ROADWAYS

Funds intelligent roads and parking lots

SOLAR ROADWAYS, SAGLE, IDAHO (August 25, 2009)- Solar Roadways today announced that it has been awarded a DOT contract that will enable them to prototype the first ever Solar Road Panel.

The Solar Roadways will collect solar energy to power businesses and homes via structurally-engineered solar panels that are driven upon, to be placed in parking lots and roadways in lieu of petroleum-based asphalt surfaces.

The Solar Road Panels will contain embedded LEDs which "paint" the road lines from beneath to provide safer nighttime driving, as well as to give up to the minute instructions (via the road) to drivers (i.e. "detour ahead"). The road will be able to sense wildlife on the road and can warn drivers to "slow down". There will also be embedded heating elements in the surface to prevent snow and ice buildup, providing for safer winter driving. This feature packed system will become an intelligent highway that will double as a secure, intelligent, decentralized, self-healing power grid which will enable a gradual weaning from fossil fuels.

Replacing asphalt roads and parking lots with Solar Roadway panels will be a major step toward halting climate change. Fully electric vehicles will be able to recharge along the roadway and in parking lots, finally making electric cars practical for long trips.

It is estimated that is will take roughly five billion (a stimulus package in itself) 12' by 12' Solar Road Panels to cover the asphalt surfaces in the U.S. alone, allowing us to produce three times more power than we've ever used as a nation - almost enough to power the entire world.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 67 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      The possibilities are endless (and a few of them quite sinister). Great job, I think we are at the brink of the information road and the power generating road, technologies are maturing. We could have road which tells the repair departments where the potholes are. We could have a road that advises traffic of accidents. We could have the traffic lights and signs built into the road, no extra infrastructure needed. We could have dynamic context sensitive signage. We could have viehicle specific signage linked to gps and route planning. We could have per viehicle lighting at night, reducing consumption of energy and light pollution. We could have weather warnings on the road. We could have dynamic speed limits adapted to the car performance and to the road and traffic. Brilliant. I won't go into the sinister ideas, we have enough big brother nanny psychopathic state already.

      I think this is really road 2.0. Awesome job. Has the potential to relaunch whole economies *wink wink* I don't remember being so excited with car related news.
        mapoftazifosho
        • 5 Years Ago
        We could have advertisements in the road!!!!!
        • 5 Years Ago
        I like the idea of the per-vehicle lighting. Just have the road lines illuminate a few hundred yards in front of each car during low traffic flow. So if you are the only one on the highway, you can see everything you need to, and not waste the extra power. Plus, for unlit roads visibility would be much improved, especially in rain.

        Speaking of rain, I wonder how traction on glass would be when wet. Although I'm sure a surface coat of something could fix that.
      • 5 Years Ago
      There is no way this will ever be anything close to the cost of a layer of ashphalt!
      Do you want to pay 100 times your road taxes?
      Can't think of a more difficult challange for service and reliability. Roads require a large upkeep, from plowing, digging up to repare/replace sewers etc. Ever hear of potholes? How many streets do you drive on that don't have ANY cracks. Just the decision to fund the experiment is questionable logic.
        • 5 Years Ago

        The first X number of length of road will be very expensive, and it will reduce in cost every length thereafter.

        If this is shown to be even a third as promising as their numbers, don't you think other companies will spring up to develop ways to both make it more efficient thus profiting from it themselves? The power generated should pay for the roads. The resulting industry change would negate any need for a road tax from the government. The government does not create the roads and would have no need to tax them, only regulate them.

        The coal industry would take a hit, since we would no longer need in, is nearly as much, we can now export it to the growing economies (and not to mention more than 30% of the world's population) in India and China.

        The more I think about it, the better this idea sounds. The government is only investing 100k, I think we can calm down on the hyperbole.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yes, it is more expensive than asphalt and concrete, but it will also last longer than asphalt and concrete/ If if cost 3x more but lasted 4x longer, it would save money in the long run. Don't forget the bonus of the electrical power provided.

        This initial test is to determine exactly how well it works, see if there are unexpected problems, test durability and costs. Even if it turns out to be impractical for large scale use, it might still be useful for special applications, like safety lighted crosswalks and illuminated lane markers.

        It is a small research grant that just might produce major benefits for US.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Snow is one thing, but what about wet roads? I can see dry road glass having as much traction as asphalt but what about driving while its raining? I would think any kind of glass is way way less porous than asphalt and would result in really slippery driving only while its raining. Thoughts?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Asphalt isn't porous either. Road crews sometimes cut grooves in the asphalt where extra road gripping is needed in rainy weather, to drain away excess water. The same could be done with this glass road. They might even make it a "tiled" arrangement with water drainage between the tiles.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'd be curious to see how they handle Florida sink holes and flooding.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I see problem here:

      1. They need to be able produce road for less then $6k per panel. The cost saving they get from making it a road instead of just a solar plant desert - is not so big to justify design change from fragile solar panel to road surface for huge trucks.

      2. Road must be possible to clean itself (tire wearing and dust) for 21 years ?
      In contrast to solar plant - road panels are placed horizontal instead of 20-40* as in plant. Self-cleaning glass is still a problem for solar plants with their position of panels, for road it will be even bigger problem.

      3. Power generation will be during daylight time. During night - we will still need either power grid to get electricity from others parts of country or batteries. Both are costly.
      As well - production will depend on season. Winter season - then we actually need more electricity to remove ice from road - will generate less power (as few as 30% from summer time) as Sun will be lower.

      4. In order to produce solar panel - rare-earth elements are required. For example due to First Solar Inc. price for tellurium has increased x10 times and there are hard limit on possible production quantity for it.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Nateb123,

      Saying something is "crap from the start" without any actual real analysis other than your seat of the pants/gut feeling is, well, utter crap. Admitting that you haven't even been to their site or read their facts and calculations just makes you look like a complete idiot. You are making your argument based on no facts whatsoever. I guess you still believe that the sun rotates around the earth, because hey-- if you go by your gut feeling, that's what makes sense.

      If you want to argue Solar Roadways calculations are wrong, that they cannot manufacture these panels or make them cost competitive with asphalt, I'm afraid you're going to have to do your homework and argue with real numbers, actual costs and actual facts. If you read the analysis on their site (and yes, we all know you didn't!) you'd see they attempt to put an actual cost on the construction and maintenance of asphalt roads. Their arguments are logical, but maybe there are flaws in them or their numbers. Their whole goal is to be direclty cost competitive with asphalt, and they freely admit they cannot make that claim yet since they are still in the prototype phase.

      If you are going to make blanket statements like something can't work, and you have no facts/numbers to back up your claims, please-- just go back to watching Fox News Network and leave the intelligent discussion to the adults...
        • 5 Years Ago
        I've actually got my own little mini-thread going on in the comments. Just posted up some more details about my quibbles which you're free to take a look at.

        As for your comment, why is it you see it as more important to argue with naysayers than to develop the idea? It seems to me if you were interested in the environment, you'd be commenting something useful. I put up valid points of criticism, the same ones whoever would be expected to build these roadways will be asking. You meanwhile are more interested in just /looking/ green. Go drive a Prius, I'll be questioning the ecological issues of strip mining.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I understand that if you make the glass thick enough it should be able to withstand a good amount of force and resist cracking. I worry more about what they would do about chipping and accident scenario's where 80k points would flip over and slide along the glass possibly destroying it in the process.

      I wonder if it's cleaner to make new glass or new roads.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Glass making requires much higher temperatures than are involved in concrete manufacture, which in turn takes higher temperatures than asphalt (asphalt comes from petroleum). So the energy requirements for initial production are much higher.

        The real key question is durability. Glass is harder and more wear resistant than concrete and asphalt, and resists acidic damage and solvent damage much better than concrete or asphalt. If the lifespan of this "glass road" is long enough, it would compensate for the higher energy cost of manufacturing.

        It will take a few years, but we'll see how well it holds up.
      • 5 Years Ago
      You guys should check out the FAQ page on the Solar Roadways website: http://www.solarroadways.com/FAQ.htm
        • 5 Years Ago
        Thanks, that was interesting. Also interesting was their "Numbers" page:
        http://www.solarroadways.com/The%20Numbers.htm

        They did make one crucial error in their calculations. They figured the electricity production based on the power production of standard solar panels, but those figures assume that the panels are directly facing the sun, not lying flat on the ground. Since the panels will not directly face the sun, and they will lose some sunlight due to reflection and scattering from the textured surface, the energy production will be about half of what they calculated.

        They also assumed incorrectly that it would enable everyone to go "off grid". Not true. With the possible exception of a few private roads, these "solar roads", if built, will be fully integrated into the existing power grid, which will provide both backup power and energy storage.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I wonder how well that would work when it snowed...
        • 5 Years Ago
        my guess is that the parts that are covered by snow would be powered by the large percent of roads that arent covered by snow. also using the power generated by this highway grid, they could put heaters to melt the snow.


        • 5 Years Ago
        Talk about incentive to clear the roads!
        • 5 Years Ago
        Perhaps if the grid was interconnected...the roads could be heated...
      • 5 Years Ago
      Jesus, some of you people need to watch the damned video and go read the FAQ on the website. How in the hell can you pose intelligent questions when you have no idea what you or they are talking about????
      • 5 Years Ago
      For those of you speculating on "what happen if it snows" Perhaps reading the article would enlighten you.

      From the article; "There will also be embedded heating elements in the surface to prevent snow and ice buildup, providing for safer winter driving. " and "requires no plowing "

      Of course other statements make me wonder, "$100,000 to construct the first 12' by 12' panel" OK, R&D costs but still that sounds expensive. However, "It is estimated that is will take roughly five billion (a stimulus package in itself) 12' by 12' Solar Road Panels to cover the asphalt surfaces in the U.S. alone" actually sounds cheap to switch over to this high tech system.

      I 'm a little sceptical of the durability of the roadway myself, that and tracton on a "glass" surface. I wonder if they could incorporate a pressure coil layer to generate even more electricity?
      • 5 Years Ago
      Nissan is already experimenting with in-the-road tech to charge an EV while it's moving on the road.

      It's far from being commercially viable but if it's worked on and then combined with "Solar Roadways" idea electric cars could potentially have a nearly unlimited (and nearly carbon footprint free) energy source which would greatly reduce, and potentially eliminate, the need to stop and charge your EV while going on a road trip.

      If it gets worked out, another bonus of having "on-the-road" charging would be ever-shrinking (in size) batteries, which would mean lesser weight, especially considering the advances in battery energy density.
        • 5 Years Ago
        To extend on that idea, I should point out that the "glass road" would be much better suited for installing an inductive power transfer system, or even better, an inductive linear motor drive that could propel the vehicles, compared to concrete or asphalt. It's transparent to a wide range of electromagnetic waves, making possible both inductive power systems and infra-red communications for control and billing services.
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