Route 66, arguably the most famous stretch of tarmac on Earth, is playing host to a test of Solar Roadways’ revolutionary new solar panel road surface.

Husband and wife team Scott and Julie Brusaw set up Solar Roadways in 2006 after becoming concerned about the effects of humanity on the environment.[1] But like true entrepreneurs, they realised that any negative us humans were having on the world –such as motor vehicles, which are among the major contributors to greenhouse gas levels in our atmosphere – could be turned into a positive, thus creating a clean energy provider from the miles and miles of tarmac.

We have the technology

Adding solar panels to roadways doesn’t just harness clean energy. Essentially, these panels can contain any number of electrical components to make roads safer.[2]

Here are just some of the most common roadside features that would be obsolete if electrical panel in road tarmac were installed:

  • Warning signs – LED lights under the road surface could show messages
  • Road salt – under-road panels will retain natural heat and will therefore melt snow during winter weather
  • Petrol stations – electric vehicles could charge up in parking lots along the road, powered by the road itself
  • Wildlife – sensors in and around the road would detect wild animals and warn drivers
  • Power lines – the road itself would provide power to nearby buildings

The technology could also be used on cycle paths, in playgrounds, in parking garages or on runways – anywhere there is open space really. Another clever application of the solar-powered road panels is shown in a short video on the Solar Roadways’ website. In the video we see road markings in a car park change intelligently, so that if all bays marked ‘disabled’ are taken, other bays can quickly become disabled as well.[3]

Built to be resilient

The basic hexagonal panel design – the shape that scientists recently discovered is the most efficient for packing and saving space – allows for malfunctioning panels to be removed, fixed and replaced.[4]

Each hexagon is covered with tempered glass that, as well as being strong enough to withstand the weight of hundreds of heavy vehicles every year, has an inbuilt grip design to improve traction.

Despite their cutting-edge design, Solar Roadways are made from as much recycled material as possible, further reducing their environmental impact.

Solar Roadways and Route 66

Despite all the benefits of Solar Roadways, the cost of production has meant that it has taken a long time to get the project out into the real world for testing.

However, earlier this year that all changed when Missouri’s News Tribune announced that a small stretch of Route 66 would be covered with the company’s hexagonal solar panels to generate electricity for the Route 66 Welcome Center at Conway.[5]

Although the money is yet to be secured, the local government is said to be considering a crowd funding campaign to pay for the project, which would make sense after the success Solar Roadway had with their own Indiegogo fundraiser in 2014.[6]

Space-based solar power: Powering the earth

Sources:

[1] http://www.solarroadways.com/About/Journey

[2] http://www.solarroadways.com/Product/Features

[3] http://www.solarroadways.com/Product/Applications

[4] http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2015/07/hexagons_are_the_most_scientifically_efficient_packing_shape_as_bee_honeycomb.html

[5] http://www.theverge.com/2016/7/1/12077414/solar-panel-roadway-public-test-route-66

[6] https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/solar-roadways#/

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