Solar Roads Made From Glass

Electrical engineer, Scott Brusaw hopes to make glass roads a reality in 2010, with funding from the United States DoT.  The premise of his design is to introduce a network of highways to the U.S. that will provide enough solar power to make fossil fuel power plants obsolete.

Mr. Brusaw’s company, Solar Roads is developing the solar panels that will be used in the prototype driving surface, scheduled to be presented to the Department of Transportation on February 12th.  If successfully developed, the new type of road surface could provide some economical benefits.  Plans include heaters below the surface to melt snow and ice, LED powered markings and messages, and an energy storage system that could potentially provide enough electricity to power the nation’s households.

The solar panels and capacitors used to collect and store solar energy, as well as LEDs used for road markings must be durable enough to handle highway truck traffic.  That’s not the biggest challenge though.  In order to keep the solar panels exposed to sunlight, the road surface must be transparent.  Glass is an option, although it introduces extensive challenges.

Although glass is very strong, it’s very vulnerable to impact and fatigue.  The smooth surface we are used to seeing on glass is great for transparency, but terrible for traction.  Smooth glass roads would be almost impossible to drive on in even slightly damp conditions.  Grooves or texture would have to be added to the surface of the glass, which would improve traction, but make the glass more brittle.  The surface must be constantly kept clean from tire rubber, debris and precipitation in order to keep the solar panels exposed to sunlight.

Despite the challenges of a glass driving surface and immense cost, Brusaw has plans to test the concept on a smaller scale before introducing it to the fast lane of the interstates.  Parking lots may be the first place we see the glass road surface.  How long before we have to watch advertisements below our feet as we walk from Wendy’s to our car… or in the middle of an intersection while we wait for the light to turn green?

Source: Scientific American

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2 responses

  1. A group I’m interning for, known as YERT (Your Environmental Road Trip), conducted an interview with Scott while filming a documentary around the U.S.

    January 11, 2010 at 1:23 pm

  2. thanks for posting the video. very interesting project.

    January 11, 2010 at 10:16 pm

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