In an aggressive move to prepare for new technology and the future, such as smart cars and technology yet to come, the MoDOT began Roadway 2 Tomorrow. Pilot project testing of smart pavement projects was created to not only meet the needs of these vehicles, but also with a goal to find ways to generate revenue.
That revenue has the potential to pay for roadways, according to Tom Blair, MoDOT engineer. In a June 2016 interview with the News Tribune, Blair said that MoDOT is working with the one of the project test companies, Solar Roadways, to develop “solar panels that you can drive on” (1).
What kind of solar panel can withstand such weight and constant traffic? Blair calls it, “bullet-proof glass.”
According to Solar Roadways, they formulate tempered glass specifically to support “the weight of semi-trucks.” Their solar roadway features a “tractioned surface equivalent to asphalt.”
Solar Roadways Pilot Test Green-Lighted
Solar Roadways is the brainchild of Julie Brusaw, an Idaho private practice counselor who was concerned about the environment. Her engineer husband, Scott, put his skills to the challenge and together brought her idea into reality. The couple formed Solar Roadways in 2006 and began seeking grants and other funding venues to develop and test their product (2).
In a 2014 crowdfunding project, the Brusaws raised $2.2 million that allowed them to take their creation to market. They captured the attention of the MoDOT (set to launch a crowdfunding campaign to further fund their Roadway 2 Tomorrow testing).
The result of the Brusaws’ invention are the hexagon-shaped LED embedded solar panels that generate electricity. Having passed two tests conducted by the Federal Highway officials, the MoDOT’s pilot project is an extension of Federal testing for the use of the Brusaws’ hexagonal solar system.
Each hexagonal section contains electronics that are encased in the highly tempered glass and weights around 70 pounds. Whenever repair is needed, it’s as simple as replacing the damaged hexagon.
The Brusaws’ vision for their solar roadways is far more inclusive than just a solar generating hexagon. In fact, the possible applications encompass an entire revolutionary idea that has the potential to reshape the world through the integration of technology and solar energy.
The website describes how that vision expanded, “LED lights to create lines and signage without paint, heating elements to prevent snow and ice accumulation (and) microprocessors, which makes them intelligent, (allowing) the panels to communicate with each other, a central control station and vehicles.”
The Brusaws believe that by replacing roads and parking lots, their solar panels could generate more than enough power for Americans. In fact, based on the 2009 stats for the nation’s electricity use, they claim that Solar Roadways’ panels could generate over three times those statistical levels.
And if those panels replaced all sidewalks, driveways and other surfaced areas, the surplus would be even more.
MoDOT Test Project
The MoDOT anticipates having a solar sidewalk completely installed at the “westbound I-44 rest area at Conway, between Lebanon and Marshfield in northern Webster County.” The goal is to meet much of the electricity demands for the rest area.
Blair told the News Tribune, “It’s hard to predict what this will lead to. We’re a few years away from a final product.”
The future roadways are in need of updating. According to Blair, the continued advancements of technology is going to have an impact on roadway systems. “It is going to disrupt everything that every one of us transportation leaders have experienced to date in our life. It’s happening fast, and it’s going to be disruptive.”
That warning is far-reaching since Blair admits that no state transportation department is “fully prepared” for how technology will impact them. It’s imperative that preparation be undertaken.
Blair concludes, “We will soon have self-driving, ‘smart’ vehicles on our dumb and underfunded roadways.”
Indiegogo selected the Brusaws’ campaign to highlight their 2014 annual meeting and created a short documentary that they presented to participants. The documentary is titled “Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways” (see video above).
Solar Roadway and the MoDOT are moving forward on their projects with the hope that this innovative solar power idea will usher in a wave for the future.
References & Image Credits:
(1) News Tribune
(2) Solar Roadways
(3) TSW: Could Microgrids Bring Light to Billions without Electricity?
(4) Screenshot Solar Highway